Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Alex Chilton, the Letter


I am reading the new Alex Chilton bio, A Man Called Destruction, and I needed to tell this one…

When I was a kid we had this one babysitter called Barney. Her name was really Bonnie, but my parent’s heavy New York accent turned it into Barney, so I always felt bad for her for having a boy’s name. She was interesting looking. At the time I found her very unattractive, but thinking back she was kind of brilliant- long and thin and dressed in all black, straight leg trousers and a turtleneck, thick black framed eye glasses, and a red afro-ish head of hair. I thought of her as homely, but she might have been a stylin’ cool beatnik. There were no beatniks in my world at the time, so I had little to compare her to.

Anyway, I cannot remember but either we had a 45 of The Box Tops song The Letter or she would bring over 45s when she babysat. Alex Chilton was the singer of the Box Tops, and he was a mere16 years old when he cut the vocals and the song sky-rocketed to number 1. The deep soul vocals sounded like they came from someone more mature and, as it said in the book, people were often shocked to find out The Box Tops were a white band.

I was so young, 4 maybe 3, that I could not understand what the song was about. I felt the urgency, the sex, the soul, i knew it was about something dark and adult but could not comprehend the story. I recall not understanding how a “baby” could write a letter.  I remember later my cousin explaining to me dead pan that “the guy wanted to get back with his girl.”

Barney and her long slim black-clothed body would lock my sister and I out of our bedroom and play The Letter over and over on our stereo and dance back and forth in a trace while we peered through the key hole, curious, shocked.

The Chilton book is pretty amazing, I am loving the period I am reading about where Alex stopped doing drugs and alcohol and was humbly taking day jobs and playing shows and had a great attitude. It is rare in a riches to rags story that someone shows so much character and is so victorious inside, in the mind. I don't know how the story ends and I shouldn’t write this until I finish the last 40 pages, but I am. Human beings are amazing, no matter how the story ends. The journey is the same, fucking hard, and we do our best. (oh god, I hope he dies happy and doesn’t descend back into the messed up Alex before the end…)

What song to end with? The Letter, where they are lip syncing and goofing around? The Replacements song? Or The Way I Walk, by the Cramps which he produced…. maybe all three

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