I never had any aspirations or concrete thoughts of seeing Big Star live. I was born 8 years after they first called it quits, and missed their reunion in the early 90’s because, well, I was eleven in 1993. I’m no expert when it comes to their history. I picked up #1 Record/Radio City at the Tower Records that used to be in the La Jolla Village Shopping Center in 2006-ish. The more recent of those two records was 32 years old at that point.
But that’s the thing about Big Star. It didn’t matter. Alex Chilton had a way with words and music that cut through…everything. I didn’t listen to any of their music (with the exception of “In the Street,” which was used in the opening credits of That 70’s Show) until well past college, but the song that immediately sends me back to being a scared, naive, shy, nervous, innocent, trusting, rebellious teenager? “Thirteen”. No other song even comes close. And the real beauty of it is that he did it without using even half as many adjectives as I did in that sentence up there.
It’s a simple song, but it’s one of the greatest. A lot of people have said what I’m attempting to say with a lot more grace than I ever could – but never better than Alex Chilton could (to loosely paraphrase Chuck Klosterman).
So, to use Alex’s words:
“Rock and roll is here to stay
Come inside now, it’s okay
And I’ll shake you…”
That last line there? That’s all I ever want anyone or anything to do.
And this song is the best at it. It’s simple, but reduces me to near-tears on every. single. listen. Because that’s life. It’s finding out that Alex Chilton died while sitting in a photography business workshop. It’s saying “I love you,” to someone for the first time without even realizing you said it. It’s finding out that Michael Jackson died while grocery shopping in Henry’s. It’s not hearing someone when they said “I love you,” to you for the first time. It’s sitting in an undergraduate independent study lab when the first plane hit the WTC. It’s the first inching of hands toward each other in the darkness of a movie theater.
It’s the mundane mixed with the tragic mixed with the magical every. single. day. It’s a 2 minute and 35 second song that instantly wipes away 12, 24, 48, however many years of life experience and leaves you feeling absolutely raw and exposed and vulnerable. You owe it to yourself to listen to this song. You owe it to yourself to unabashedly remember how that feels.
Rest in peace Alex, knowing that you were absolutely right. About absolutely everything, not just rock and roll.