Alex Chilton: How to Disappear (Almost) Completely

Alex Chilton became a star as the 16 year-old singer of the Boxtops’ “The Letter” in 1967.  After that, though, he soon decided that he didn’t want to be famous.  This career arc (such that it was) became the template for every indie-rock performer who just wanted to be left along.  The New Republic has this feature.

[B]y the time Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010, aged 59, he had become an icon of intensely pure artistic integrity and an acknowledged influence on innumerable later acts including R.E.M., the Replacements and Elliott Smith. Rather than the failed or self-destructive pop star he appeared to be by 1980, Chilton had come to embody a new archetype: the unpopular pop musician, a performer whose reputation rests on a willful rejection of commercial considerations altogether.Without him there could have been no Tom Waits, who exchanged his piano for percussion instruments literally borrowed from junkyards; no Jeff Mangum, who disappeared from public life right after his band Neutral Milk Hotel recorded one of the ’90s’ most revered albums; no Jeff Tweedy, whose critical viability was secured when a major label dropped his group Wilco for making an “uncommercial” record with abstract lyrics and tape loops.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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