Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jake Vest on Alex Chilton

“We’re too good. People go too crazy when we play.”

My name is Jake Vest. I live two blocks from Ardent Studios, and Alex Chilton is one of my two biggest influences. Jim Dickinson is the other. And last night, when I put my copy of Big Star’s “Third” on the turntable, that statement really hit me hard. That album is by far one of the scariest, weirdest, and most gut-wrenching albums of all time. Of course, It’s also joyous, sarcastic, tender, and (in the case of “Nature Boy” from the Rhino reissue) very funny. I feel so much pride that this brilliant record (along with a giant truckload of others) was recorded two blocks down Madison by people who lived only a short drive away.

Since the day Dirk Kitterlin handed me the CD version of “Third” with its awful artwork (ugliest artwork I’d ever seen, aside from the #1 Record/Radio City 2fer), I’ve been obsessed with it. So obsessed that I dug even further (with the help of my personal bible: “It Came From Memphis” by Robert Gordon) into territory that freaked me out even more.

“Like Flies On Sherbert” shook me to my core. I had trouble finding it, just like I did the Moloch record. But eventually I got it (with ugly 2fer artwork again…), and it took a long time before I listened to anything else. The fuck-it-who-cares guitar tones, the pounding drums on “Hey, Little Child,” Chilton’s madman yelp on the title track, Lee Baker tearing it up on “My Rival” and pretty much everything else (and I mean TEARING IT UP), Dickinson’s effortless piano parts and his vocals (and guitar?) on “I’ve Had It,” the weird synthesizers, the bad timing, the popping of microphones, the laughing, the Carter Family… And to add to the overall greatness is the fact that no one could tell me who really played what on the album. Jim Dickinson himself once said to me, “Shit, come to think of it that might’ve been Baker on the drums…” I was in love. The absolute everything-that-came-before-
this-doesnt-matter-anymore kind of love.

I dedicated tons of time to finding everything he recorded during the mid to late 70’s. Lucky for me the internet was ripe. Thanks to Japanese mail order sites and illegal downloading (sorry, Ardent), I was able to hear what I favor as his best work. Singles like “Bangkok” the “Singer Not The song” EP along with bootlegs like “Dusted In Memphis” and “One Day In New York” offered a glimpse into an otherwise unreleased, invisible world. A definite highlight is a live show at CBGB’s in 1977 by Alex Chilton & The Cossacks. This may be my favorite recording of his. The versions of “Take Me Home And Make Me Like It” and “Little Fishy” are unparalleled by him or anyone else. It’s pure rock n roll madness. And it is exactly the kind of music I want to make, through and through. If you havent heard it, e-mail me and I’ll get you a copy.

I tried to put a band together to cover “Sherbert” (enlisting the Hi-Tone’s Dan Holloway in the process!), and eventually that idea turned into The Bulletproof Vests (sorry, Dan). For anyone who’s seen us play, you know the highlight of our set is always Chilton’s “Take Me Home And Make Me Like It.” Always. I mean it NEVER FAILS. And I’m in no way surprised.

Wednesday night was shocking. I’m uncomfortable discussing my personal emotions as a result of his passing, because I am not an Alex Chilton friend or an Alex Chilton family member. I am simply an Alex Chilton fan. And I will continue to keep his music (along with other Memphis music) alive by performing and recording it for anyone who will listen.

“Play it for me, guitarist.”

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