May 4, 2012

the things that pass for knowledge I can't understand

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square, 1967

* On Big Star's Third:

Third is an album of soft moonlight and deep black holes. It's the sound of confusion and dislocation. It's an album that sounds as if it was being demolished even as it was being recorded, where a heartstoppingly beautiful melody might at any moment be washed away by a scree of white noise. It's an album where Chilton, the record's creator, might one minute be singing about a "wasted face … a sad-eyed lie … a holocaust" and the next be thanking his friends – "wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you". The guiding principle behind its recording, all its surviving personnel agree, was chaos, and the guiding theme behind its songs was disintegration – of Chilton's personal life, of his career, of his music.
Chilton's maverick spirit, and presence in New York, made him an attractive elder statesman to the punk scene, and began the rehabilitation of Big Star. He returned to Memphis, bringing the Cramps with him to produce an EP and LP for them. He recorded a solo album, Like Flies on Sherbert, whose derangement makes Third seem sedate – "That's a descent into madness, for sure," says Pat Rainer, who engineered it – and helped form the bizarro rockabilly-punk outfit Tav Falco's Panther Burns. Chilton's name cropping up on the sleeves of these hip records made him a contemporary figure again, and spurred interest in his past. "It's the auteur theory, right?" Robert Gordon says. "We get interested in the artist's lives. Alex is an example of, and he defies, the auteur theory. You certainly wouldn't put The Letter, #1 Record, Third and Like Files on Sherbert together and go: 'This is one person's career.'"

* "To diminish shock, I throw high dice, get sauced, go to Egypt, scythe a field, screw." -- John Cheever


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