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.