Big Star – Life Is White

Love this driving song by Big Star. It was on Radio City, their second album. Some say it is a response to the Chris Bell song off the first album called My Life Is Right…or a message to his girlfriend Diane (Don’t like to see your face Don’t like to hear you talk at all) that he was splitting with at the time.

After the failure of their first album, singer/songwriter guitar player Chris Bell quit Big Star. Alex Chilton didn’t know if Big Star was going to make another album. He continued making demos because he could always do a solo album. The two other members, drummer Jody Stephens and bass player Andy Hummel wasn’t sure either what was going to happen. They had talked about ending the band.

Their record company Ardent was under the Stax umbrella. They sent out invitations to all of the major rock journalists of the day in 1973. They invited them to Memphis to see Ardent’s roster of bands but most of all Big Star. The rock writers loved Big Star. Many legendary writers were there including Lester Bangs.

Stax agreed to foot the bill, which amounted to $40,000 to fly in more than one hundred rock critics from across the U.S. and U.K., put them up at the Holiday Inn, wine and dine them, bus them to Memphis landmarks like Graceland, and, on the final night, knock them out with a showcase at Lafayette’s Music Room, featuring Skin Alley, Larry Raspberry and the High-Steppers, and Big Star.

As writers from California (Shaw, Gene Sculatti, and Cameron Crowe), the New York City area (Richard Meltzer, Andy Shernoff, Gary Kenton, Pete Tomlinson, Lenny Kaye, and Nick Tosches), upstate New York (Billy Altman), Austin (Chet Flippo), Detroit (most of Creem’s staff, including Lester Bangs and Jaan Uhelszki), and the U.K. (Simon Frith, Ben Edmonds, and Pete Frame) signed on, Big Star was persuaded to play the gig.

The writers sat through the other bands and by the time Big Star took the stage, around midnight, they were well lubricated. Big Star couldn’t have had a more receptive audience. Rock critics are not known to dance but they were all on the floor and some has since called the performance by Big Star magic. Some called it the greatest performance and sound they ever heard. That night is what convinced Big Star to stay together and finish their second album Radio City. They played most of the first album, some covers, and a few songs they had worked on including Life Is White.

What I question is…Stax would give money for things like this but could not distribute records?

Alex had the quote below while he was in Big Star. What he said foretold Big Star’s future. It would be years later before the album would sell anything and get noticed. They would make one more album…Big Star Third/Sister Lovers before ending it.

Alex Chilton: “The important thing is to make a good record,” “because if you make a good record, it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s going to sell from then on to some degree, even though it doesn’t sell anything when it comes out and is a big disappointment to everybody. If it’s really good, people are going to want it from then on, and that’s the important thing. It might take five or ten years for it to pay off—or it might take twenty years, and you might be dead when it pays off. If it’s good, it’s going to pay off for somebody, sometime.”

Life Is White

Don’t like to see your face
Don’t like to hear you talk at all
I could be with Ann
But I’d just get bored

Can’t even bring myself to call
And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that

Whatever’s all the same
Now there’s nobody to know
And I can’t recall, recall your name
All I can say is so

And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that

Your life is white
And I don’t think I like
You hanging around

Don’t like to see your face
Don’t like to hear you talk at all
I could be with Ann
But I’d just get bored

Can’t even bring myself to call
And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that now

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

24 thoughts on “Big Star – Life Is White”

  1. it’s amazing that had that showcase with all the scribes but still didn’t really garner any attention from it. Just listening to song now, it’s new to me, but pretty good…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad they did it…it kept them together another year and we got two albums out of that. When the records are not in the record store…you can’t sell…there was demand but no product. Stax would spend 40 grand for a party but couldn’t get the records in a store?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like Big Star…what I’ve heard from them. I have to say I was introduced to them by way of Cheap Trick and that 70s show…I know you’re a huge fan, Max, and I’ve known several musicians who mention Big Star a lot, so they’re obviously one of those bands that musicians and critics love.
    As for me, I’m neither critic or musician. As such I prefer The Box Tops to Big Star.
    I love Stax as far as gritty R&B goes. Big Star would have probably been wise to go with another label…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea they are akin to Badfinger and the Raspberries…well and Cheap Trick. It’s hard to describe them…they influenced more bands than selling records.
      Yes Stax was dead in the water at this time. Everything just went wrong for them. Whats odd about Chilton is he never went back to that voice of the Box Tops.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes and even when he regrouped with the Box Tops during the 90s…he STILL didn’t use it again. He was a stubborn man…would not talk about Big Star but would everything else.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Big Star was an interesting and underrated band, who had almost a cult underground status. I like the music of Alex Chilton, but his problem was that he never finished his songs in terms of conventional tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been listening to Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert…yes that album is like what you said. I like it but not for the masses. He refused to go back to the Big Star sound after the seventies…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In contrast to Big Star’s power pop are Alex Chilton’s solo albums poorly produced. I like “Like Flies On Sherbert” because the songs are intense, but if we would talking about building houses instead of music, I would say deconstructive.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It looks like they would have hit the reset button on Stax as a distributor before Radio City…since the first album had the same problem. September Gurls yes…that should have been a hit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting background story about that Big Star gig at Lafayette’s Music Room. And certainly remarkable that Ardent spent the equivalent of what would be approximately $237,000 today to fly in and wine and dine all these music journalists but then, as you pointed out, evidently not doing much to promote the band’s second album – strange!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh one thing…. They did negociate with Clive Davis of Columbia to distribute the record…that is great right? Right before Radio City came out…Columbia fired Davis and no one really gave a shake about Big Star…It’s almost like they were meant to be a cult band

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great quote from Chilton there. Certainly true in the case of Big Star. Great band – I’m fortunate enough that people were talking about Big Star when I started getting into music in a big way in the late 90’s… I gave them a listen and was baffled that they were a sorta cult band. The songs are just about perfect….

    Perhaps they would have had better success on another label.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Another label I think would have worked much better. Bruce Springsteen also had a quote about making a good record…he basically said concerts are for now but records lasts forever.

      I found Big Star in the late eighties and wondered the same thing.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Good tune that pours out that pained angst of the messiness of love. Chilton’s quote needs to be a credo for every musician and probably is! The reverse is also true — pander to the suits at a sacrifice to quality and you may line some pockets for awhile but your music will be forgotten just like a fast food drive-thru meal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Springsteen mentioned it also…which you probably already read but concerts are now but records are forever…and that is so true.

      Liked by 1 person

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