18 March 2010

For the invisible man who can sing in a visible voice

March has been a sad month for music lovers, with Alex Chilton, lead singer of Big Star, dying of a heart attack yesterday and Mark Linkous, the mastermind behind Sparklehorse, taking his life over a week ago. Big Star was one of the great American rock bands of the 1970s, headed by Chilton and the tragic, late Chris Bell. While commercial success eluded the group in their heyday, their influence could be heard on countless American rock bands from the mid-1980s on, from R.E.M. to Primal Scream. Chilton's musical legacy was immortalized twice for subsequent generations by Paul Westerberg and his The Replacements' brilliant anthem to the singer, titled simply "Alex Chilton," and Ivo Watts-Russell's 4AD "supergroup" This Mortal Coil, who covered "Kangaroo" (with vocals by Cindytalk lead singer Gordon Sharp) and "Holocaust" (sung by Howard Devoto of The Buzzcocks) on the album It'll End in Tears. A Big Star tribute album was released in 2006, which featured covers by Wilco, The Afghan Whigs, The Posies and Teenage Fanclub. Chilton and Big Star's music started appearing in a number of Gen X films like Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming and Empire Records and more recently in both Adventureland and Thumbsucker.

Mark Linkous was the brains behind Sparklehorse, one of the great, lesser known bands to come out of the mid-90s. Sparklehorse reached its greatest success in 2001 with the album It's a Wonderful Life, which featured guest vocalists PJ Harvey, Tom Waits and Nina Persson of The Cardigans. In 2009, Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse collaborated together on a project entitled Dark Night of the Soul, which was to be accompanied with a photo booklet from David Lynch. The vocalists on the album included Iggy Pop, Persson, Julian Casablancas, Lynch, Frank Black, The Flaming Lips, James Mercer of The Shins, Suzanne Vega and the late Vic Chesnutt. Despite legal troubles with the release, Dark Night of the Soul was available streaming on NPR's website, and it rumored to have an official release sometime this year. A number of musicians have been offering requiems for Linkous, including Steven Drozd, Steve Albini and Patti Smith.


Ricky Bleu said...

I wondered why everyone seemed to be talking about Big Star all of a sudden. This is really sad. I only know the two songs from the This Mortal Coil original versions album but I really love those songs.

joanna said...

Big Star is one of my favourite bands, and the death of Alex Chilton is an incredible loss, it seems that we're losing a lot of great showbiz personalities lately. But his music will go on, and he will be missed.