You float. Somewhere
between the ceiling and the floor at the Crystal Ballroom there is a distance
that cannot be measured accurately. Precisely. It's out of the question.
It's like pi -- an odd happy number that could occupy the artificial and
organic minds for a millennium or more. A dot and infinite digits. McMenamin
brothers, better not to put it on the Web site. It'll crash. Loose change
follows its own orbit. The laws of gravity bend and bow inertia of thirst
and a desire for music. For a back beat. I want to rent this place. A private
party. Just for a few hours, so I can run. Run in my best pair of tube
socks and slide. Slide like Tom Cruise only dreams he could. I'd be wearing
pants. Probably. It might be humiliating for Alex Chilton to play a gig
like this but I'm sure he'd be pleased to hear that his and Big
Star's music was blasting out the P.A. system for such an affair. The swirling
sounds of September Gurls, Bangkok, Can't Seem To,
chasing some guy around a big bouncy dance floor in his socks. From
the stage, or the security video at the hearing, Alex could see that the
man's demons were cowering beneath the drip tray for the Hammerhead tap.
Yes, my happy thought for the day. You see, the floor at the Crystal Ballroom
is on ball bearings. Let the floor do the work. That's my motto. In and
out of the Portland dance scene for the last eighty odd years, the Crystal
is a perfect match for the happy bop of Alex Chilton and Big Star's
music. Not so much for their danceability, but for the history. The Crystal
Ballroom has a lot of history. So does Alex Chilton.
big star moments with alex chilton
For the real
Alex Chilton and Big Star fans his name pursues not just memories,
but a stream of consciousness including Alex's history along with their
own; where and what they were doing last when the Boxtops big hit
letter was blasting out over the AM radio. You remember, dont you? That
gritty, ageless voice (17 at the time) of
me a ticket for an [F] aeroplane
aint got time to take the[D7] fastest train
days are gone, [F] Im a going home,
baby just wrote me a [Am] letter."
do you know whom Im talking about? Well yeah, sort of. I loved that song.
That was Alex Chilton? Anxious to prove the extent of their loyalty, contemporaries
recount Alex's years of self imposed exile, studio frustrations and mostly
unknown triumphs and then, when even the fairly literate rock and rollers
still wear that vague expression, the fans jump into their varying lists
of those artists whom Mr. Chilton has influenced. (Strangely, right now
I've got Jeff Buckley loaded in my changer along with three Big Star
albums and the Replacement's Pleased To Meet Me, and damned if Mr.
Buckley doesn't sound like he was a fan.) For many, the Replacements top
the list because of their song, one of their biggest hits, the aptly titled
Alex Chilton. More knowing nods sure, but damn, that vague expression.
It's still there. Isnt it? Come on...
by the millions
Im in love with that song
Im in love with that song."
Oh well. Ironically, and absolutely fitting in Chilton's case, the Replacements
song is another one of those familiar tunes that is hard to identify with
any particular time, person or place. Timeless, definitely, but typical
of Chilton's lack of notoriety.
what do I know about Alex Chilton. When he, backed by the remaining two
Posies launched into a burning rendition of In the Street the theme
song adopted by That 70s Show, I knowingly bopped along,
but incorrectly answered my son, confidently I must add, that yes, this
was just a cover! Yeah, what do I know, Had I done my homework a little
more thoroughly, I would have recognized that as a Chilton\Chris Bell song
from the summer of 1972 and their album #1 Record. That song, along
with a good many other fine examples of pure pop inspiration (Thirteen,
September Gurls, Motel Blues, She's a Mover) all seemed
familiar but alas from when and where, from what era, scene or genre? It's
hard to place. That little truth is the unfortunate reality for one of
pop music's most influential and lasting icons. Listening to him and watching
the knowing faces of the fans in attendance, its impossible not to hear
and see the familiarity that this pop legend breeds. The novelty of that
floor causes people to look over their shoulders, smiling of course, but
you want to share this. You look over your shoulder half wondering where
its all coming from; the music , the movement. You want to make sure everyone's
getting it. A kind of are you in on this look. Sadly, there were few, only
about 400 in attendance there to see it.
For our favorite
artists we wish them success but not too much. A sell out crowd would have
been nice as long as you could still easily get cheap tickets. Air play?
That be cool as long as certain stations dont get a hold of them and then
kill it with overplay. Ah fuck it, that kind of success gets complicated.
Let's face it, would we wish all that on anybody? Success for these Big
Stars, for the Alex Chiltons of the world, I would hope, comes from all
those knowing smiles and joy created in that infinite space between the
floor and the ceiling. At the Crystal Ballroom, in Portland Oregon and
in the thousands and thousands of other rock and roll spaces we make for
ourselves in the world. So let's just pass the good stuff around among
our friends and to all that have an appreciation for those singular and
timeless voices that inspire us. If you make a trip to the Crystal, bend
your knees and let the floor do the work.
(photowork: john richen / smokebox)