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Here’s how my mind works sometimes. Like a relay race. Alex Chilton dies and the synapses start yapping and snapping and something like this comes out. I had read and heard in different places, Paul Westerberg’s tribute in the online New York Times, a conversation I had with someone who knew him, that in the years after he moved from Memphis to New Orleans, Chilton was washing dishes for a living or as Westerberg mentioned, living in a tent in Tennessee. Whether these things were about choice or necessity, I don’t know. On the face of it, they are not activities one associates with legendary rock status, or lifestyle choices popular musicians normally make. But I don’t claim to have known Alex Chilton through anything but his music, and although his talent for melody seemed to flow without effort, there was nothing easy about the way Chilton treated it, as has been previously noted by Robert Hull on this site.
So what do I know? Washing dishes and living in a tent might have fulfilled some promise he made to himself. He would try to live like an ascetic. He would try the mendicant path. Maybe anything worth saying isn’t supposed to come easy.
But the synapses start yapping and snapping and the baton gets passed. I think, hey, what about That 70’s Show? Didn’t he make a pile from “In the Street?” Didn’t that show give the world Mila Kunis from Kiev? Didn’t Chilton agree to a Box Tops tour not so long ago? Hey, didn’t Big Star make their first studio record since 1973 in 2005 and weren’t they scheduled to play at South by Southwest when Chilton passed away. Wasn’t the world becoming A.C.’s oyster again?
A Manchester combo originally called the Jets, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders performed with a trebly guitar, shrill falsettos, and a breakneck purposelessness. In 1965, they released, as if by chance, one of the great party albums of the British Beat period: The Game of Love (Fontana MGF 27542).
In these depressive and indifferent times, we should remember a time when the magical genre of Power pop held the airwaves--as well as the critics' ears.
The Knack's Get the Knack, released in 1979, had nothing to do with the music of another band called the Knack, which had four singles, also on Capitol, back in '67-'68. 79's Knack was not an echo. The Knack certainly borrowed their name from Richard Lester's film, The Knack...and How to Get It, which he directed between working with the Beatles on A Hard Day's Night and Help!. But the Knack did not share the mod kookiness of Lester's film.
The Knack had TEEN SCREAM written all over their PhisoHex-scrubbed mugs. Listening to the Knack made me feel younger than the audience at which it is aimed. The reason for this is that during my teen years carnal knowledge was not obtained through the AM/FM: all formulaic pop records (especially those great sons of Jerry, Gary Lewis & the Playboys) were presumed to contain a subtext of sexual innocence.
Get the Knack, however, was a sexual tease, exactly what polished pop music needed then. 'My Sharona', their Top 40 smash, is what kids would play on their car 8-tracks as they licked each others' inner thighs. That Power pop could provoke a kind of sexual tension gave it a certain oomph--beyond Beatlesque nostalgia.
these guys ??
Growing up in Memphis back in '67, I used to get tired of hearing the Box Top's ‘The Letter’ (#1 hit in the world that year) on the radio every second because DJs felt obligated to reduntantly remind listeners that here, at last, was a hometown band that had hit the Big Time. (In The eyes of Nehru-clad visionaries, Memphis's Sun rockabilly and Stax soul – the untamed past – were irrelevant to the expectations for a bright Sgt. Pepper future.)
Fame's a brief candle though, and soon the Box Tops were inserted in the annals of anthropop history. That is, until '72 when their ex-vocalist Alex Chilton began making racket with Big Star, a name not meant as a cynical reference to the Box Tops' instant stardom but simply referring to Memphis' Big Star supermarket chain, where as a teen I used to buy Hit Parader (which printed the lyrics to all the Box Tops' hits).
Much has been written about Big Star's initial lack of success. True, #1 Record and Radio City are infectious pop LPs, but they're also rather uneven, their best moments on singles (i.e. ‘When My Baby's Beside Me’, ‘September Gurls’). As for Alex Chilton, his cultism is worth examining, not only because his recent works, the Singer Not The Song EP and ‘Bangkok’ 45, are well-crafted gems, but also because he's still out there fighting for fresh sounds (despite a disbanded Big Star, whose influence is heard in the music of Sneakers/Chris Stamey and Memphis Scruffs).
Will forever loves me some John Anthony Genzale, Jr. - forever... always rest in peace you quiet, intense and seriously sarcastic soul! If you're out there someplace, thanks for indulging my "teenage kicks"! You were a gentleman, even if you told Gren you had "no class"... the 80's were fun... xx
So it is on nights like these, when rain that should be snow pounds against the window and sets me to tossing and turning because I’m afraid another leak will spring in the roof of this 126 year old house and send the third floor tenant running for a lawyer, that I think of Koerner, Ray and Glover. Why? That’s just how I roll__out of bed.
I must go now to the back of the house and listen to that tune which Leadbelly called “Gallis Pole,” which Led Zeppelin certainly called “Gallow’s Pole” and which as “Hangman,” Spider John Koerner, along with Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony ”Little Sun” Glover, reworked into particles of current that still ebb and flow through the knob and tube wiring of my brain.
Like so many British folk tunes, “Gallow’s Pole,” snaked its way over time from the mid-Atlantic states to deep down South, and what you’ll hear in Koerner, Ray and Glover’s take (as well Leadbelly’s ) that you won’t in Zeppelin’s is the narrative piece.
A condemned man stands on the scaffolding facing the hangman hoping that his nearest and dearest will ride up post haste with enough currency to upend the inevitable. In this case, the man waits for his father, mother and wife. Now you’re probably wondering how such grim stuff can possibly get me through the night. Well, I’ll tell you; it’s not so much what the singer says, in this case Spider John Koerner, it’s the way he says it. Koerner, Ray and Glover’s is the loosest, most spirited version of “Gallows Pole” you’re likely to hear and emblematic of their jumpy, good time approach to American folk and blues music.