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The Reluctant Ghost of Alex Chilton

This is going to be harder to write than I wanted it to be. Everyone seems to have their feelings sorted out ahead of time about the sudden passing of Alex Chilton, instant access to their memories of where they were when they heard a particular Chilton track, or what it meant to see Chilton bristle in a rare interview, or have "Thirteen" played at their wedding.

Everyone is already so eloquent. How can they know what to say so quickly? I'm still coming to terms with the newness of his ghost.

* * *

I only really started listening intensely to Alex Chilton's music in May of last year. I'd had a few Big Star songs in my collection for a while, but something happened in May that ignited an obsession of a magnitude I wasn't quite prepared for. And I can't even say what that thing was. Still, no matter how deep and broad the obsession became with his music, I didn't expect to be hit so hard by his death. Or maybe I just didn't expect him to ever die at all.

But as I saw his name come up on my screen last night next to those horrible words that seem so wrong —"dead at 59" — I shouted. I was angry. Then I raced to put one of his albums on the record player. I needed to hear his voice, needed to hear him play. And that's when it hit me. Hard.

This sounds a bit like goodbye
In a way it is I guess
As I leave your side
I've taken the air
Take care, please, take care
Take care, please, take care

Back in November, when we saw Big Star at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, the best part of the night was watching Chilton there on stage simply enjoying playing his music. He loved playing the songs he loved, and he loved watching the rest of us get to hear them. There was no question about that, and you could tell he felt music in every fiber of his being.

I get angry at the fact that here you have this guy who enjoys playing music so much, so very obviously much, and he doesn't get to any more. He's gone. He'll never be on that stage again. He wasn't ready to stop playing, but some idiot pulled the wrong rope on the curtain. He wasn't ready to stop playing. That's what has hit me the hardest.

Life is too goddamn short.

I hope there's plenty of music wherever he is now. I hope he hears that funeral march of the thousands of stereos playing his songs, and joins in. I hope he's playing hard, bending his shoulder into the beat, leaning his head back and hearing those songs play him all the way up to heaven.

The music will miss you too, Alex.

Other things I've written because of Alex Chilton can be found here:

An Open Letter To Nick Hornby
Guess Who Has A Tumblr, and other things marginally related to Alex Chilton
She Thinks She's A Mystery To All
Alex Chilton Is My Nerd Boyfriend


All Things Chilton on my other site, Alex Chilton Is My Nerd Boyfriend

If you've never heard any of the following songs, do yourself a favor and seek them out. The best thing I can think to do to remember him is to play his music as loud as we can, windows rolled down, feet on the dashboard.

The Box Tops
You Keep Tightening Up On Me
Soul Deep

Big Star
Ballad of El Goodo
Back of a Car
September Gurls

Alex Chilton
Every Day As We Grow Closer
Hey! Little Child

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

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