Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Deep Drag

I saw this with my own eyes.



In 1989, I met a guy named Peter Smith, who was in the process of reinventing his life. In the process, he gave me a copy of Let It Be, by the Replacements, and one evening invited me out to a little club in the industrial outskirts of Columbia, Missouri called The Blue Note. It was a little scary - the balcony seemed on the verge of giving out - but I got to hear Alex Chilton perform "The Letter," after taking a deep drag on a cigarette to replicate what you hear on the record by The Box Tops.

I saw Alex again a few years later, after Pete left town to become a chef, at the new Blue Note on 9th Avenue in Columbia, across from my work at a little deli that served sandwiches and Rice Krispies treats to the downtown work crowd (I loved that place - if you heard Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, or Alex Chilton, for that matter, while you ordered your corned beef in 1990, it was me making it). Hell, for that matter, I heard Alex had dinner at some BBQ joint nearby, so he could have sullied my place, too.

In terms of performance, to be kind, Alex was ****-up. But brilliant, in the way only the hardcore veterans at the time could be. I've never seen that kind of messy, star-gazing show again. You haven't lived until you've heard "No Sex" and "Bangkok" performed live, and they never will be again. In that room, I saw Chuck Berry and The Breeders and The Cramps and Henry Rollins and Fugazi and the last performances of Concrete Blonde and Uncle Tupelo, and sang the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" with some 1,000+ other revelers. I did okay with my little college career.

And I saw Alex one last time, in 1993, almost by accident. I heard through the grapevine that Alex might be playing an event called Springfest. It was a little event put on each year by our college radio station KCOU, which regularly played such friends as Ditch Witch and a little band called Uncle Tupelo, which is another story entirely.

It turned out to be little, but not small. Big Star reunited on April 25, 1993. We all gathered in a little tent outside the Hearnes Center (the big auditorium) because the big hit Bryan Adams had the place booked for the evening. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies stood in for the noticeably absent Chris Bell, and they played like it was the poignant reunion it was. From the opener "In The Street" (see That 70's Show - and I hope Alex had fun with his money) to a lovely cover of "I Am The Cosmos" to a heart-stopping "September Gurls," Big Star was everything you would ever want them to be.

Alex Chilton died today. I don't care why. I'm just sorry.

I don't say this often enough. Thank you, Alex, for everything you did for me.

Godspeed to one more rock star.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where The Hell Is Don Winslow?

I can't recall if Bang! has ever had an exclusive before, but this one's not bad.

To the left, you'll find the preliminary art for Don Winslow's new novel SAVAGES, due from his new publisher, Simon & Schuster, in July.

And if you wander over to Bookslut, you'll find this month's column, "Waiting for Don Winslow," in which I track the elusive author to his lair in California to talk about crime, the P.I. trade, Surfbonics and literary minimalism. When you combine my own obsession with a single author's output, a gracious interview subject, and a hell of a good book - in this case, two - it turns out pretty good every now and then, much to my surprise.

Go read something good, and give Don your nod of approval by tracking down The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, and pretty much anything else he writes. He's the real deal.