Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me Documentary

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my musical entry and final pick.

Such a great band but such a frustrating story. Robyn Hitchcock remarked, “Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1972 but didn’t arrive until 1985.” That is a great way to explain them. They made three of the best albums of the decade that were not heard until much later. When they were finally discovered they influenced many artists such as The Replacements, REM, Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet, and more. The last time I checked it was on Netflix…watch this documentary.

When these musicians and critics talk about Big Star…they talk about them like people talk about The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks. In this documentary you have Cheap Trick, REM, Mitch Easter, Robyn Hitchcock, and others talking about the band.

The first album got great reviews…you couldn’t ask for better. When the label called radio stations trying to get them to play it…the stations would say it’s not selling. When someone actually heard the songs on the radio, they couldn’t find the record to buy it. This was basically the same story with all of the albums.

Distribution problems and just bad timing. Stax didn’t do a good job of distribution…they made a deal with Columbia before the second album to distribute the album…problem solved right? Nope, Clive Davis who made the deal was then fired at Columbia. The deal fell through and then Stax disintegrated.

Chris Bell who was key in creating the sound the band had quit after the first album. He came back but then quit again. Chris had depression problems and wanted badly to do something on his own. Alex Chilton continued and finished the second and third album with a new bass player on the third album.

After that, it follows Chris and Alex’s career to the end of both. It also covers Jim Dickinson’s role on the third experimental album. Family members, fans, and rock writers also share their love of Big Star and memories of the band members.

In May of 1973 Ardent Studios where Big Star recorded invited 100 rock writers down to Memphis to hear Big Star live. They all loved Big Star and it went over great…but that wasn’t the band’s problem…it was the business side. What would have happened if they would have signed with a label more suited to them?

Before watching this documentary, a couple of years back I didn’t realize Chris Bell was so instrumental in developing their sound. I knew it wasn’t the Alex Chilton band, but Chris was invaluable and started the ball rolling. All 4 members did contribute writing and singing but Chilton and Bell were the Lennon and McCartney of the group.

It’s a great documentary about a great band that had the talent, but fate wasn’t on their side.

There is the often-used Peter Buck quote that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album went out and started a band…the same is true with this band.

My recommendation? Watch it…NOW

Cast

Billy Altman … Self – Writer
Jon Auer … Self
Lester Bangs … Self (archive footage)
Chris Bell … Self (archive footage)
David Bell … Self – Chris Bell’s Brother
Norman Blake … Self
The Box Tops … Themselves (archive footage)
Panther Burns … Themselves (archive footage)
Cheap Trick … Themselves
Stephanie Chernikowski … Self – Photographer
Alex Chilton … Self (archive footage)
Rick Clark … Self – Writer and Musician
Stephen Ira Cohen … Self – U.S. Congressman (archive footage) (as Steve Cohen)
The Cramps … Themselves (archive footage)
John Dando … Self – Band Manager, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Luther Dickinson … Self
Mary Lindsay Dickinson … Self
Steven Drozd … Self
Van Duren … Self – Musician
Mitch Easter … Self – Musician and Producer
Bruce Eaton … Self (voice) (archive footage)
William Eggleston … Self
Tav Falco … Self
John Fry … Self – Founder, Ardent Studios
John Hampton … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios
Douglas Hart … Self – Bass, The Jesus and Mary Chain
Robyn Hitchcock … Self
Andy Hummel … Self (archive footage)
Ross Johnson … Self – Writer and Musician
Ira Kaplan … Self
Lenny Kaye … Self – Writer and Musician
John King … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Curt Kirkwood … Self
John Lightman … Self
Carole Manning … Self – Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Mike Mills … Self
The Replacements The Replacements … Themselves (archive footage)
Steve Rhea … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Will Rigby … Self – musician
Richard Rosebrough … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Kliph Scurlock … Self
Tom Sheehan … Self – Photographer
Chris Stamey … Self – Musician and Producer
Big Star … Themselves
Jody Stephens … Self
Sara Stewart … Self – Chris Bell’s Sister
Michael Stipe … Self
Ken Stringfellow … Self
Matthew Sweet … Self
Alexis Taylor … Self
Marge Thrasher … Self – Hostess of Straight Talk (archive footage)
Jon Tiven … Self
Pete Tomlinson … Self – Writer
Jaan Uhelszki … Self – Writer (as Jaan Uhelzski)
Terry Edwards … Conductor, London (uncredited)

dB’s – Black and White ….Power Pop Friday

The Db’s were a great unknown power pop band…who would influence many bands but not sale many records. The band members were Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Will Rigby, and Gene Holder.

All of the members are all from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but the band was formed in New York City in 1978. They never broke through to the masses but they were heard on college radio in the 80s. 

“Black and White,” is the leadoff track to The dB’s debut album Stands for Decibels, and it is pure power pop. The dB’s were signed to the U.K. label Albion, which had trouble licensing the record for American distribution…. and subsequently went un-promoted in radio and only received sporadic play from college radio stations.

The Stands for Decibels album was ranked at number 76 on Pitchforks list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s. The dB’s would released 6 albums in all. The last album was released in 2012 when the members reunited. 

The dB’s broke up in 1988 and Peter Holsapple would go on to be an auxiliary guitarist and keyboardist for REM on the Green tour. He then helped in writing and recording their Out Of Time album. Holsapple subsequently worked with Hootie & the Blowfish as an auxiliary musician.

The dB’s worth checking out. 

Good story on two of the members meeting two Big Star members:

In May of 1978 two members of the dB’s Will Rigby, Peter Holsapple, and future R.E.M producer Mitch Easter made a pilgrimage to Memphis. They were about the only people in America who, while attending high school in the early ’70s, were under the impression that Big Star was a major band.

Their first stop was Danver’s…a restaurant that former Big Star’s Chris Bell worked at and his father owned. They passed a note to the server to talk to Chris and out he came. He was shocked that fans would track him down. It had been 6 years since the Big Star debut album was released.  They were impressed by how nice he was to them.

Bell invited them to join him after work at a ferny bar-café called the Bombay Bicycle Club. Here, while Bell played backgammon with a buddy, the three guys peppered him with questions: What kind of guitar did he play? How did he get those great sounds? 

Bell wondered if the boys were up for maybe checking out a Horslips (local rock band) concert. They instead decided to go over to Sam Phillips Recording Service to visit Alex Chilton, Bell’s former Big Star bandmate, then making his experimental album Like Flies on Sherbert. Bell and Chilton exchanged quiet hellos before Bell went home. 

A few days later Alex Chilton drove Easter and Rigby (Holsapple had already left) around Memphis, showing them the old Sun Studios building (which had a Corvair parked inside it), and taking them up a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. He pulled out a cassette and played a song on a junky little cassette player that took his visitors by surprise.

Chilton played the guys a Chris Bell song. He was raving about it saying it was Chris’s best song and it was the ultimate “Big Star song “…the song was I Am The Cosmos which the public had not heard at this point. 

Chris Bell would die in a car wreck on Decemeber 27, 1978…only 7 months after this happened. 

Chris Stamey on Big Star:“They were my favorite, and as far as I knew they were popular all the way across America. At least for that moment, I forgot about Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.”

Peter Holsapple on meeting Chris Bell and I Am The Cosmos:  “that the person who made all that beautiful music was a right-on kind of guy, too.” “It’s that kind of rife-with-sadness record, but it’s realized with the same imploding beauty that Big Star had. I mean, I Am the Cosmos-it’s just wry enough to make you turn your head and do a double-take, you know, the first sixteen thousand times you listen to it.”

Black and White

I, I never would hurt you
But even if I did you
You never would tell me
Oh, we are finished
As of a long time ago
As of a long time ago
I stop
I don’t enjoy you anymore
Well I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore
Well I guess it’s all laid out in black and white
You don’t like it at all

Love
Love is the answer
To no question
But thanks for
Oh, the suggestion
I know I don’t care at all
Yeah, I know I don’t know anything at all
But I stop

I don’t enjoy you anymore
Well, I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore
Well, I guess it’s all laid out in black and white
You don’t like it at all
You don’t like it at all
You don’t like it at all
(In black and white)

Chris Bell – Better Save Yourself —- Power Pop Friday

Chris Bell was the founding member and guitarist/singer/songwriter for Big Star. Chris left after the first album never sold.. He played afterwards a little but then went into a huge depression.

This song has a hard trippy edge to it. I love his voice in this one…he sounds like he is on a mission and he was at the time.

He was doing drugs, drinking, and basically shutting himself off to people. He was this way for months and his brother David took him over to Italy to try to help him. His brother snapped this picture of Chris that was used on his debut album that was released after his death.

I Am The Cosmos (180 Gram Vinyl)

Little by little Chris started to get better and more religious…that helped him cut out the hard drugs. He would battle depression for the rest of his short life but he never got as bad as when he quit Big Star. You can hear the hurt in his voice in this song.

This song is about him finding God.. The lyrics are brutally honest. He did attempt suicide twice and states that in the song. Although this was recorded in the mid-seventies…it wasn’t released until the 90s long after Chris had died in an auto accident.

Better Save Yourself

I walk the streets
I’m all alone
I just can’t think
What I’ve been doing wrong

I know you’re mine
He treats you nice
It’s suicide
I know, I tried it twice

You should’ve given your love to Jesus
It couldn’t do you no harm
Should’ve given your love to Jesus
It wouldn’t do you no harm
You’ve been sitting on your ass
Trying to find some grace
But you better save yourself
If you wanna see his face

I guess there are things
You’d like to know
It’s getting late
And I know you want to go

Tommy Hoehn – Blow Yourself Up… Power Pop Friday

I’ve been reading about the early to mid-seventies Memphis scene and have found out that we missed out on some great power pop that was never heard by the general public. To my readers I have to pass all of this along. I do appreciate of you reading about these more unknown artists…but if one person listens to some of these posts and likes one…it makes it worth it…it also feels good living up to my WP power pop name.

Tommy Hoehn is another in a long line of musicians  who should have been heard but it just didn’t happen. I would have never thought of Memphis as a power pop location but a generation of local musicians were heavily influenced by the Beatles, Who, and the Kinks. They took mid-sixties pop… along with Badfinger and the Raspberries and put a different spin on it.

The most known band from that period from Memphis is Big Star…you won’t hear that sentence a lot. Tommy Hoehn played with Big Star’s Chris Bell and Alex Chilton as well as helping out on Big Star’s 3rd album. “Blow Yourself Up” is full of hooks and his voice is perfect for power pop.

All of these musicians at the time hung out a lot at Ardent Studios. The owner John Fry would let them record and gave many keys to come in when they could and no one took advantage of it for a long time. That is one reason many of these artists sounded really good…they had time to get a sound they wanted.

This song was released in 1977 on Power Play Records, a local Memphis label and it was a regional hit. That same year, Power Play Records released Hoehn’s first solo album Spacebreak, which contained two of the songs Hoehn had recorded with Prix as well as the Blow Yourself Up single.

Blow Yourself Up was featured on Rhino’s D.I.Y.: Come Out and Play: American Power Pop (1975-78) compilation that was released in 1993.

He continued to release albums in the 80s, 90s, and 2000’s. In late 2009, Hoehn began work on a solo album tentatively titled Pi. However, in December 2009, he was diagnosed with cancer, and became too ill to sing lead vocals on the album. He died on June 24, 2010, at the age of 55.

Blow Yourself Up

She lie / in a cool repose / She breathing
Tries to believe I don’t know it
I’m not dull, I show it
She shies away:
Shaken / and I push her just a little
Even enough to fool just her
Ooo I really mussed her
Cutchya’ I’ll blow yourself up

She-vades / Such a crude contempt
I invade
She gets away and I feel it
Then I just can’t hide it
She shies away
Thinkin’ / There’s a full moon, I’m not thinkin’
Stupid as nails she keeps askin’
“Who just opened my door?”
Come in and blow yourself up

Stop! We don’t care!
Step above, I could stare –
In your eyes, for a week
Maybe two
They’re so blue…

She lie! / In a room she made to wonder
Tries to believe in a reason
Frets inside her feelings
Comin’ so close – solo!
And the overcast is breathing
Even the leaves gonna shudder
I see stars and colors
Something to blow yourself up 

Chris Bell – You and Your Sister

When people think of Big Star…when people do think of Big Star…Alex Chilton comes up more often than anyone else. That is not an over sight really because he was on all of their albums. The sound Big Star had largely originated from founding member Chris Bell. Alex and Chris wrote most of the first album and they modeled themselves after Lennon and McCartney. Their first album  was praised by practically everyone but not distributed…people wanted the album but the album was not in the stores so it failed. Chris left the band not long after that failure.

Chris went into a depression but Alex carried on with Big Star making two more albums.

Chris visited and stayed in England off and on and recorded some solo material but a record deal never materialized while he was there. He brought some recordings over that he made in Memphis and Geoff Emerick mixed it for him. Geoff was the engineer for the Beatles. The song that he mixed was I am the Cosmos. Chris would continue to record some in Memphis through the mid to late seventies.

In fall of 1978 he got a call from Car records and they wanted to release a single with a song called  I am the Cosmos with You and Your Sister as the B side.  It was the only solo release Chris would see in his lifetime. Unfortunately, Chris didn’t get to enjoy it long. He died in a car wreck on December 27, 1978. He was only 27 years old.

When he recorded You and Your Sister he got Alex Chilton to sing harmony vocals with him.

By the way…if you haven’t heard I Am The Cosmos give it a listen. It’s a layered, lush,  almost perfect pop song. I hope you enjoy this song.

14 years after his death in 1992  Rykodisc released Chris Bell’s solo album from the songs he recorded including the two songs on this single.

You and Your Sister

They say my love for you ain’t real
But you don’t know how real it feels
All I want to do
Is to spend some time with you
So I can hold you, hold you
Your sister says that I’m no good
I’d reassure her if I could
All I want to do
Is to spend some time with you
So I can hold you, hold you
Plans fail every day
I want to hear you say
Your love won’t be leaving (Run run, run run)
Your eyes ain’t deceiving (Run run, run run)
Fears will soon fade away
Smile now, don’t be afraid
All I want to do
Is to spend some time with you
So I can hold you, hold you
And let me whisper in your ear
Don’t you worry, they can’t hear
All I want to do
Is to spend some time with you
So I can hold you

Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos

Alex Chilton’s songwriting partner in power-pop legend Big Star, Chris Bell was an overlooked member of an overlooked band. In London, he teamed up with longtime Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick at AIR Studios, where the final touches and mix were completed. Bell would spend the next two years engaged in a frustrating attempt to get a record deal in the U.S. and Europe. With those prospects dimming, he eventually abandoned his career and took a job with his family’s fast-food chain back home.

Just another sad story that came from Big Star. In 1978, amid when Big Star started to get a  cult following, “Cosmos” was released as a single by fan and fellow musician Chris Stamey, on his tiny North Carolina-based Car label. The song (backed with the “You and Your Sister”) would be the only solo work released during Bell’s life. Just a few months after the record was pressed, Bell would die in a late-night single-car accident near his home in East Memphis on December 27, 1978. He was 27.

The B side…You and Your Sister

 

 

I Am The Cosmos

Every night I tell myself,
“I am the cosmos,
I am the wind”
But that don’t get you back again
Just when I was starting to feel okay
You’re on the phone
I never wanna be alone
Never wanna be alone
I hate to have to take you home
Wanted too much to say no, no,
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Never wanna be alone
I hate to have to take you home
Want you too much to say no, no
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
My feeling’s always happening
Something I couldn’t hide
I can’t confide
Don’t know what’s going on inside
So every night I tell myself
“I am the cosmos,
I am the wind”
But that don’t get you back again
I’d really like to see you again
I really wanna see you again
I’d really like to see you again
I really wanna see you again
I’d really like to see you again
I really wanna see you again
I never wanna see you again
Really wanna see you again