Anna Minard, our city hall reporter, claims to "know nothing about music." For this special Bumbershoot edition of her column, we forced her to listen to a record by Big Star, a band music nerds consider VERY important that's getting an all-star tribute at the festival.
Big Star is a hippie caressing you tenderly. The hippie tucks your hair behind your ears while a violin plays, and you feel like all is right with the world for a minute. The songs are short, because that's how it was in the old days; they didn't have time for long songs. The calm ones are your hippie lullaby. Others are more of a stoner party. Very early on, they play tin cans and tambourines and sing about nudity. Each tiny song is a little snippet of a new thing, seeming totally unrelated to the last one.
******BREAKING NEWS ALERT: I JUST RECOGNIZED A COVER OF A VELVET UNDERGROUND SONG! FOR REAL! THE APOCALYPSE IS HAPPENING! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! Everyone: Make your way to your neighborhood's nearest safety basement. If you are in an unfamiliar area, there should soon be emergency personnel in yellow vests guiding your way to the nearest safe place. If you have neglected to store enough food and water and medicine at your work or home to last at least 10 days (the federal government recommends one gallon of water per person, per day), you may want to contemplate running into the forest and scavenging. Everyone watch out for falling rocks of flame and the judgment of the Lord. Stay safe!
UPDATE: I'm so sorry about all that! I just looked out the window, and apparently, the apocalypse is not happening at all, not even a little bit. But I was pretty sure, because track three on this album is a cover of a Velvet Underground track, "Femme Fatale," which I realized all by myself. (I remind you: I got assigned this column a couple years ago after pitching music coverage for Boyz II Men, Weird Al, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy all in a row.) I ran screaming around the office to alert everyone; they were suitably impressed and also maybe a little worried about me.
Anyway, let's get on with this! Like I said, there are a million tiny songs on here, and they're squishy and lovey and they fill your ears with wheat fields and flower chains. They have crazy names: "Holocaust" sounds like the sad part of an indie film, or like the father plant that Jeff Mangum rooted off from. "Jesus Christ" sounds like a circus that turns into a praise rally and then turns into an '80s romance movie scene. Eventually, they do "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." I think they had a stroke? Toward the end—cowbell out of nowhere. Weirdos. This music is enjoyable, but so disjointed and strange.
I give this a "things are changing 'round here" out of 10.
Dave Segal literally knows everything about music. He gladly relistened to Third/Sister Lovers by Big Star, a band that he, The Stranger's biggest music nerd, considers to be VERY important.
Third/Sister Lovers isn't really a Big Star album, the story goes; it's more of an Alex Chilton solo effort, aided by producer Jim Dickinson, vocalist Lesa Aldridge (Chilton's girlfriend at the time), Steve Cropper, and other Memphis ringers. And nobody can decide if it's called Third or Sister Lovers. And it's been reissued many times. And it's fantastic.
Third/Sister Lovers has a reputation for being a major bummer, due mainly to Big Star's lineup splintering, as well as Chilton's personal life. But it contains several shafts of sunshine amid the glumness. Chilton sprinkled the album with day-brightening wonders like "Kizza Me" (marauding glam), "Thank You Friends" (pop with soul undertones, verging on maudlin but ultimately heroic), "O, Dana" (tentative and ebullient, the song that most harks back to Big Star's first two classic LPs), and the surprisingly rousing "Jesus Christ," which is a lot cheerier than the Velvet Underground's "Jesus." Speaking of VU, Big Star's cover of "Femme Fatale" finds Chilton's voice higher and bubblier than Nico's (well, who's really surprised by that?), but still capturing the sublime fragility at the song's core. "O, Dana" appears to be struggling out of a straitjacket of moodiness until it bursts into joy at the chorus. The orchestral heartbreaker "Stroke It Noel" sows confusion about Chilton's sexual orientation, but does so in an attractively baroque manner. "You Can't Have Me" is a flinty, raucous rocker with a great, bulbous bass part; it seems to be about an encounter with a groupie ("The drummer said you were not clean/And I know what he means"), and Chilton comes off taunting and asshole-ish. But you could get away with sentiments like this when you were as cute and gifted as Chilton was.
Third descends to a nadir on "Holocaust," which, with its David Gilmour–like guitar wails and hippo-snore cello line, is one of those songs you shouldn't experience if you're harboring even the tiniest seed of depression. Seriously, it could nudge you into the abyss. "Kanga Roo" is its more beautiful twin, the melancholy melody embellished by gorgeous sighs of guitar feedback and morose strings. Somehow Chilton invests the most mundane lines with piercing poignancy: "I saw you breathing, oh/I saw you staring out in space." "Big Black Car" is a lush, lugubrious wallow, as Chilton faintly moans, "Driving's a gas/It ain't gonna last." Sink into its plush interior.
The downward spiral continues on "Nightime," "Dream Lover," "Blue Moon," and "Take Care," all of which swirl in a thick syrup of tender mercy. You can hear Chilton trembling as he tries to hold it together in a dignified manner. While this genius struggles with his life in song, the listener gets a huge dose of consolation. Third/Sister Lovers' acute connection to human frailty has comforted people through some grave times. Even resurrected at Bumbershoot by superfans in inferior bands, Third is sure to be inspirational.