It’s Friday but instead of the usual workday I am sitting at home with my wife and my dog. I’ve taken a day off to take care of some personal business and to maximize our rock and roll weekend. Last night’s Dirtbombs show rocked our faces off and we’re going back for more great music from Ted Leo and The Pharmacists who are in LA tonight (and again on Sunday for a matinee). Since I’m busy with the rock I’m leaving you with one of my personal favorite posts from the history of this blog. The partly fictional account below originally appeared here in January 2007.
** A partially fictionalized music nerd moment…Bangkok is a so-so song on a mostly forgettable album called “Live in London” recorded in 1980 and released years later. By the time The 80’s came around Alex had been in the music biz for 13 years, ever since The Box Tops had a smash hit with The Letter in 1967. While not even 30 years old Chilton sounds here like he’s lost the map, he is out of tune and playing with a band that had just met and rehearsed the previous day. In 1980 Alex Chilton isn’t a legend yet, The Replacements haven’t written a song about him and the bands that will pay homage to his legacy haven’t heard their first Big Star song yet. In 1980 he’s just trying to make a living, he’s done some production (he’s listed as producer on a number of The Cramps early singles) he’s been a hired studio hand and tried to keep a hand in the business but it’s tough; he’s got no band, no label and too few prospects when he arrives in London. As the band meanders through Bangkok Chilton sounds almost disinterested…slurring his words and sleepwalking through the guitar bridge before it suddenly clicks. Having stepped back to play the guitar lead something happens, maybe it’s the house lights, or the crowd, or just the realization that THIS it’s all about THIS is what keeps him going. Alex steps back to the microphone with purpose and growls out the line that name checks a punk rock classic “I ain’t living on the Chinese rocks…” before bringing the song to a close and tearing into an R&B Classic. A few more times that night he catches the ghost again but not often, just enough to make the people in attendance remember why they came.
Around the same time, somewhere in mid western United States, the man who made Chinese Rocks a classic, a man as bent on self destruction as Chilton is tied off in a bathroom. In a few hours he’ll sleepwalk though his songs too. In torn clothes and shoes Johnny Thunders cuts a sad figure. Johnny mumbles his words, insults the audience and even falls off of the stage, but sometimes just for a second the feeling hits him and he’s just a little more a guitar player than he is a junkie. For a few seconds the kids at this club in Minneapolis cheer and John smiles before he stumbles backwards. When the show is over one of the kids in the audience goes home and writes a song called Johnny’s Gonna Die, he’s 18 years old and has a band. His name is Paul Westerberg and later on he’ll write a song about Alex Chilton too.