Alex Chilton and “Sister Lovers” (A.K.A. Big Star’s “Third”)
Last Christmas, my mother-in-law got me the new Big Star boxed set as a gift. I put it in the CD player in the car and headed over for some holiday partying. I totally spaced out, missed my exit and had to double back under the freeway (twice!), listening to an acoustic demo of "Jesus Christ." Still geeking out on Alex Chilton and Big Star after all these years.
There are records I get smitten with. And then there are the few I return to again and again; my fingers seem to find them before my brain starts up. I don't know how many copies of Big Star's Third I've owned. It's been reissued a bunch of times. I think I bought it each time. But the copy Jim Dickinson gave me is pictured below. More on that in a minute.
This is Alex's abstract expressionist masterpiece. With Jody Stephens behind the kit, John Fry behind the board and Jim very much in his corner, Sister Lovers never lets me down. They say that by the time it came around, Alex was described as bitter. Hell, I don't hear it (the bitterness). I hear beauty. The performances are loose. Effortless. Wild and free and off the cuff. But there's nothing half-assed. It's a mystery that stays a mystery.
When Alex sings, "I first saw you/You had on blue jeans," that's entertainment. Poetry, too. From the heart, from the soul. Compositionally, it's actually quite sophisticated. And with Alex's 3-a.m. first takes and the beautiful Carl
Marsh strings, it's really the perfect marriage of the street and the regal.
The story I got was that Ardent (the studio that put up the time and money) pressed up some of these white label LPs to try and get a deal for the record. They even sprang for a tailored suit (and a designer scarf) and sent Jim out to L.A. to play it for some A&R people. One famous response from Jerry Wexler that Jim seemed to take great pride in: "Jim, baby, this music you sent me is making me very uncomfortable."
While Jim was producing my old band Green On Red, he showed up one day to a session wearing a colorful scarf, and I asked him about the scarf. And he was like, "That's about all I have to show from Sister Lovers."
On the acetate below, he wrote in his inimitably crude style with a felt pen: "Big Star Sister Lovers—produced by Jim Dickinson. Eng. John Fry. NOT 4 SALE."
Much has been written about how ahead of its time Sister Lovers was. And that got me to thinking about one more thing I want to share. A few years ago, Green On Red played on a festival in Spain with Big Star. Alex introduced a new song and said, "This is off the new record. People hate it. The critics say it's horrible. Don't worry, in 30 years you'll love it!" Alex did his time on earth, but his time has never been up.
Photo after the jump.