Saturday, 15 May 2010


Tonight I'm missing a show at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park, Memphis, originally scheduled as a Big Star performance, but now re-purposed as a tribute to Alex Chilton. Of course I'm missing it, because I live 4,400 miles out of town, just beyond the dying gasp of Memphis' relentless eastward urban sprawl. Last night, I missed what by all accounts was a great show by my friend and occasional co-conspirator, Linda Heck, with whom I have just recently done some recording, both from London and in Memphis. This remarkable video sort of connects the two, at least in my mind.

Here we see Alex, joined by the late Jim Dickinson and Lee Baker, along with Sid Selvidge, Marcia Hare, a bass player I don't recognize, and an unseen drummer (presumably Richard Rosebrough) recording sections for "Like Flies on Sherbert," in either 1978 or 1979. This was a record I listened to with fascination for a long time, and while reviewers at the time struggled to know what to make of it, in retrospect, I think it's an important missing link on the road to the "lo-fi devolution." It's also an awful lot of fun.

If I understand it correctly, the story is that Alex managed to con some free studio time by claiming that technical problems had impeded his production of the Cramps' "Songs the Lord Taught Us," though this may be apocryphal.

This is a fascinating document to me, both of the people and of the recording process at the time. My recent Urashima Taro-like re-entry to the recording studio was an eye-opener, and this video reminds us how painful and challenging the process used to be. Witness Sid Selvidge trying with great difficulty to punch a single phrase into the beginning of "No More the Moon Shines on Lorena," and you get a sense of how difficult things were. Obviously, working within these constraints also prompted more innovative thinking, but damn, some easy things really seem unnecessarily hard in retrospective.

The songs are, "My Rival," "No More the Moon Shines on Lorena," and "Boogie Shoes." A longer version of this once existed on Vimeo, which also included more of "My Rival," "Bangkok," "Baby Doll," and "Rock Hard." Chaotic and all over too soon. Rest in peace, Alex.

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