3/18/2010

Alex Chilton R.I.P.

Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977

I was just about to go to sleep early last night, when my 17 year old daughter came in to tell me the bad news. Sadie knew Alex Chilton & Big Star through the opening song on her fave That Seventies Show. She had met him about ten years ago (was she 7?) when I introduced her to Alex at a show he played under the Twin Towers doing a Box Tops set.  I met Alex in 1976-77 at CBGB's when he was living in the East Village. We were about the same age, which put me in high school while he was the lead singer on "The Letter." Maybe we met at the Ocean Club before CBGB's - I'm not sure. The picture I took there was definitely shot before the more famous one in the rain out on the Bowery. I don't remember whose idea it was to go out to the median strip on the Bowery to do that shot - mine or Alex's. Most certainly it was on a whim or a dare while talking over beers at the CBGB's bar. Definitely not planned too far in advance. Just run out in the rain, and try an idea out, then go back for another beer. We'd tried other shots indoors and out, but neither of was satisfied. So when I developed the film and saw that strange drop of rain that had landed on the lens in what couldn't have been a more perfect spot, I was ecstatic. That was it - and we both knew it. Soon it got used as the cover for his independent single "Bangkok" (with a great version of the Seeds' "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" on the flip side). Maybe Alex had that in mind all the time we were shooting. I don't know. 

We didn't talk a lot about music on most nights. We talked a lot about photography. His friend William Eggleston's  color show at MOMA had just shaken up the photography world. Alex, who was working with the Cramps was well aware of my low-light photography style, and made me do a shot of him and the Cramps by candlelight - a nearly impossible task that amused him to no end. He was playing around town that summer with Chris Stamey, who with Peter Holsapple would go on to form the DB's. He was producing the Cramps first album. He certainly fit right in with the burgeoning NY punk scene. Years later, I did some shots of him at Grand Central Station, when he was passing through town. He looked the same - an eternal teenager, his mind always with you and on something else both at the same time.

This morning, I spent my subway ride listening to Big Star.  Lost in the beauty of 'Thirteen' - "Won't you tell your Dad get off my back / Tell him what we said about Paint It Black...Won't you tell me what you're thinking of /would you be an outlaw for my love".  Avoiding the gaze of other passengers, I found myself teary eyed at the loss of another friend. Never to be seen again sucks.  And then on came 'September Gurls', and I was a kid again. "September gurls do so much / December boys got it bad".  We were all kids again.  I smiled and walked off the fast train.

Alex Chilton, The Ocean Club, 1976-77

Alex Chilton with the Cramps 1977




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