My least favorite memory of Alex Chilton is my sitting on the hard shoulder of the M1 just outside Barnsley in South Yorkshire, 25 years ago, in an exceedingly uneconomical box van, having run out of petrol, 20 miles or so short of our destination, on a very dark and miserable night, wondering what to do next, thinking about some minor American Gothic horror story, surely, a severed head would bounce off the windscreen of the stationary vehicle at any moment. It really would've been easier to just get on with the hiking up the nearby off ramp to a service station to get a gallon of fuel and get going again. But that time was, although we didn't know it then, David Peace's Red Riding personified, and the north was as foreign and scary as it was accurately depicted in his books decades later. That was our north. I recall distinctly not wanting to be there. For a moment I just didn't know what to do next.
We'd only decided at the last minute to head up to Leeds for the Alex Chilton show and there hadn't been any cars available at the rental place, only the squalid box van. It was late in the day. We took it.
His brief UK tour had taken him and us to an indie music pub in Leeds and a backing band it was said, rehearsed in a day from a cassette tape, filling in for any more regular cohorts he might've had back home. Onstage in Leeds, he'd seemed small for a legend that actually had written some of the greatest pop songs of all time.
On an only slightly less hazier night in Long Beach a few years later, the unnerving tension in the room between Alex Chilton and the audience, Chilton and the band, Chilton and the soundman, Chilton and the venue management, Chilton vs. Chilton, made me feel anxious then and now, just thinking about it. Being in a room with Alex Chilton was not a consistently comfortable proposition for me unless he was on the stereo.
I hope I am not even the last on the outsideleft pages to note the passing of the late, great and sometimes infamous Alex Chilton. Late Great. He defines that expression as well as anyone I'd say. Is it true he hired a bodyguard even as he washed dishes for a living in a Memphis restaurant?
He needs little introduction to our avid readers but I'd recommend in particular checking out The Jesus Record, The Hail Mary and the Arc of the Covenant by Alex V. Cook, and By The Time I Get To Memphis by Joe Ambrose and this quote from him too,
"On the way out of town on a bus - heading south again - I note that Alex Chilton played in Dublin the previous night. Shit, I could have done with seeing him again." Joe Ambrose In Bono's Hotel, Ireland Now
We liked him being around, we liked his sounds a lot. Listening to him can make you fall in love with America all over again. He entertained us greatly and with simplicity and complexity alike. It's a shame that at only 59 he won't be doing anything next, another something less to look forward to.