I hate Big Star, and it’s okay.

BigStar-NO

As a lifelong fan of The Replacements (their life as a band, not mine as a human), I am seemingly required to love the band Big Star, the Alex Chilton-fronted band which put out three albums in the early 70s about which most indie rock fans genuflect and drool.

I’ve tried. Truly I have. Giving the albums many a long-drive-in-the-car listen back in the mid-80s, in the 90’s, at least once a decade. Most recently on a two hour drive, my wife (also a lifelong Mats fan) and I gave it the old college (though we’re both drop out) try.

And not that long ago a friend who’s music opinion I truly value gave me a song-by-song intro to the band. What to listen to first, second, third.

But still I felt nothing.

I watched the Big Star documentary thinking maybe their story would make me care. Nope.

The story was irrelevant. It was the music that didn’t click for me.

Why? (Hold on to that for me.)

In a nutshell, Chilton’s voice is grating and unemotional. Flat like a can of soda left open over night. The production is the worst of everything early-70s wrapped into one, back when I thought rock and roll was over, before punk resuscitated it.   It all sounds like a bad version of what was popular on the radio at the time, which was already bordering on the unlistenable. When listening to Big Star I hear everything that almost made me give up on rock and roll back when I was a teen.

Though I will readily admit the songwriting is good. You certainly can’t tell when Chilton is singing, but hand the song “Thirteen” over to Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, or listen to what This Mortal Coil could do with “Kangaroo” or “Holacaust” and you think songwriting genius. The Bangles cover of “September Gurls” is a pure pop treat that would make Nick Lowe grin. Many amazing songs–I’ll be the first to admit it–when performed by someone else. But those same songs performed by Big Star. They leave me cold.

And please don’t bring up historical significance. Because someone like Robert Johnson has ten thousand times the influence but it would take a gun-to-the-head to make most rock fan give a Johnson tune a spin.

This dislike of Big Star was a secret I held close for years. How could such a huge fan of The Replacements loathe the songwriter who was supposedly one of Paul Westerberg’s biggest influences? How could the director of The Replacements documentary utter such blasphemy?

But the answer finally came to me. Easy. It’s okay. Not every band can speak to every person. And there should be no shame in hating a band you’re supposed to like. Music is subjective. Not every song, not every band, can speak to the same person in the same way. It’s art. Not fast food. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me disliking Big Star, just as there is nothing wrong with you loving them.

I’ll say it now. There are lots of bands I’m supposed to like that bore me to tears. The New York Dolls. Iggy and the Stooges. Hell, I’ve never been able to tolerate an entire Ramones concert because after a few songs they all begin to sound the same. Or the Johnny-come-lately Mats rip-off band Beach Slang–I freakin’ detest Beach Slang while so many other Replacements fans I know are ready for groupie-like devotion. Does this make me a bad person? Does this make me less of a music fanatic? Does this make me an musical idiot? No, no, no. It makes me honest about how music affects me, and it does, in ways even I can’t begin to understand. Music is my religion. But because I get more enjoyment out of Miley Cyrus than I do the New York Dolls is okay. It’s all okay. What you like. What I like. It’s personal. Like toppings on a pizza, the team we root for, our favorite junk TV, our brand of beer.

So what exactly am I saying here? Simply this: “I, Gorman Bechard, love The Replacements, but I hate Big Star. ”

And if you shame me because I’m missing the Big Star gene, that’s on you. You’re the one who should be ashamed.

 

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18 Comments

Filed under Alex Chilton, Big Star, Color Me Obsessed, paul westerberg, replacements, replacements reunion, the replacements, Uncategorized

18 responses to “I hate Big Star, and it’s okay.

  1. Kevin Williams

    gee… and I though it was only me,

  2. Rob

    It’s certainly your opinion, but to block those who disagree with you and gave you some heat on the Facebook page is ridiculous. I questioned the point in a joking manner too. It is what is.

    • Rob, I blocked the people who were rude for no reason. They proved my point. It’s a complete bullying situation, which I’m not going to allow on the page, not towards one of my posts, or anyone else’s post. The whole point of the piece was that it’s okay to not like a band that the “cool kids” think you have to like. That point was missed by so many.

      • Rob

        Could care less if you hate them, just didn’t see why it needs to be broadcasted. A lot of people don’t know who they are anyway. I wasn’t a bully, but blocking people from the page because they questioned why not liking Big Star on a Replacements page has to do with one another. It doesn’t. I hate Bon Jovi, he’s hugely popular, I wouldn’t post that anywhere.

  3. John Mason

    The BS (sic) phenomenon is just the work of one more “I’m WAY cooler than you!!!” clique….

  4. Methinks you protest too much. And it’s “affects,” not “effects.”

    • Bill, thanks for catching typo. And it’s something that’s bugged me for years, the way I get looked at as if I had two heads when I say I don’t like Big Star. So, I’d say nothing instead, and just nod along. It’s not protesting so much as finally saying speaking up.

  5. Marc

    Hey! Saw your post forwarded on Facebook, thought I’d weigh in. I personally count Big Star among my favorite bands (and all 3 of their studio albums among my favorite albums ever recorded); I also LOVE the ‘Mats (and spent the whole damn weekend blasting the new live album, which is pretty breathtaking, leaving my old boot in the dust). Like most rock snobs, I went through a period of criticizing others’ taste (roughly around the time I was a college DJ in the 80s), but in my advancing years learned to not care what others like, and not care what they think about my own taste. I think we all have places where we disagree with the common consensus. Me, I find recent critics’ darlings like Radiohead and Arcade Fire deathly dull (a few singles aside); and there are plenty artists in the rock snob lexicon I will periodically spin but can’t stomach for too long at once (i.e. PIL, Mission of Burma, Pere Ubu, Captain Beefheart — all great and innovative in small doses). I think the one point where I’d push back is on Big Star’s production. I think their clean, treble-infused production (particularly the first two albums) was actually quite different from what I associate with the early 70s. Most bands then were all about big, beefy sound (I think about Led Zep or prog or Bowie or even Neil Young); Big Star were all bright, open spaces. I wish more bands captured that sound.

    • I so agree on Radiohead and Arcade…I basically like one album from each, the rest bore me. And I appreciated the comment. I have so tried with Big Star, always wondering what I was missing.

  6. DeJordy

    Not sure I understand how it sounded like everything else on the radio then. It was rather counter-trend to bombastic prog rock and southern rock. Maybe you could name the bands it sounded just like.

  7. You’re right. I mean you’re wrong, in this instance, obviously. Horribly and terribly wrong, and the taste Stasi will be along in a moment to escort you to the re-education camp. But you’re right in principle. I love…well I love all the Throwing Muses albums, but I especially love their self-titled debut, for reasons deeply and embarrassingly personal, and I’ve known enough people who will run screaming from the opening bars of ‘Call Me’ to realise that taste and connection to music is a very individual thing – however many people you find who share it with you. And you can’t force yours on anyone else, or force the enthusiasms of others on yourself.

    Those fuckers who don’t get emotionally involved with music at all…they’re the weird ones.

    • And I DO understand that my opinion is wrong to so many people…how can the dude who made The Replacements film hate Big Star. That is JUST NOT POSSIBLE. To which I shrug.

      And I agree…music is my God.

      • Well, I did discover the first Crooked Fingers album and Aubrey Debauchery through this blog, so who the hell am I to complain? No one at all, that’s who.

  8. Buddy Z

    I too don’t get Big Star. I also don’t get the Replacements. Sorry, dude. Give me The Damned any day. Cheers.

  9. John

    I thought I was the only one who preferred the Mats’ “Alex Chilton” to anything that actual Alex Chilton ever did. All of a sudden, I feel 20 pounds lighter.

    And I love ’70s Top 40. Which is also OK.

  10. I think a lot of people are missing the point of your article. It’s less about hating Big Star, and more about challenging this idea that there are some bands that are “untouchable” or above criticism – the ones that all the cool people are supposed to like.

    I’m from Dayton, OH, but I don’t get Guided By Voices, I love classic jazz, but have never been able to connect with A Love Supreme, and I wrote a piece for my website, Icon Fetch, where I question just how good Sgt. Pepper really is.

    It’s opinion, and it’s something we all should be able to express freely without getting roasted on social media. It’s much more dangerous to simply take long-standing beliefs as ultimate truths. Music should be constantly re-evaluated and examined by everyone.

    For example, I’ve long thought R.E.M.’s Murmur was the greatest thing they ever put out, and a shining moment of my high school years. I put the record on recently, and found myself shouting at the turntable, wishing the singer would just annunciate! Now, I list Automatic For the People as my favorite.

    I would also recommend Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics, as a great read. It furthers this idea that nothing is sacred, and even the highest of art is flawed in some way.

    Apologies for being long-winded – long live the ‘Mats!

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