Alex Chilton—front man for the Box Tops and Big Star, solo artist, idol of pop fans worldwide, and one of the most influential rock musicians of the past half century—died today in New Orleans of what appears to have been a heart attack.
Chilton the artist was one of the most emotionally honest writers in rock history, but Chilton the person always came off as somewhat obscure. Though he got mainstream famous for “The Letter,” his later work with Big Star and beyond only ever earned him a cult following; he appeared to know he deserved greater success, but he seemed to prefer to stay on the margins rather than compromise his music. And despite his impact on musicians from Paul Westerberg to Michael Stipe to Elliott Smith to God knows how many young troubadours coming up now, he never parlayed that into a confessional autobiography or a Johnny Cash-style third-act career revival anchored by, say, a revelatory solo album of acoustic cover songs. Instead he just put together a band and took it on the road.
I think that if Chilton was hard to get to know as a person, it was because he respected his music enough to get out of its way and let it speak for itself. In that spirit, there are a couple of videos after the jump: