Nov. 23--Had the Internet been around back in 1973, Big Star would have been as big as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder.
"Big Star -- Nothing Can Hurt Me," a new documentary from co-directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori, unofficially suggests that if the Internet and satellite radio stations existed back in the Nixon era, the Memphis-born Big Star would be so much more than the cult favorite it is today.
Comprised of Chris Bell (guitar, vocals), Andy Hummel (bass), Jody Stephens (drums) and alternative-rock hero Alex Chilton (guitar, vocals), Big Star, at the time, seemed destined to be "the" rock band of the early 1970s. A quick listen to the new 13-song CD compilation, "Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star," also proves this. The group captured musical lighting in a bottle on its first two studio LPs, "No. 1 Record" and "Radio City," with songs like the always-worthy "The Ballad of El Goodo," the soul-searching "Way Out West," the dreamy "Kanga Roo" and the achingly beautiful "September Gurls" ranking as among the most impressive, heart-felt songs to be found in all of rock music.
"Nothing Can Hurt Me" shows that, at the time, virtually every rock critic loved Big Star's edgy-yet-melodic performances, even when the band sounded like it might fall apart at the next chorus. Often ragged like Faces and Free, Big Star alternated between tough, driving sounds and sensitive, introspective pieces.
However, shoddy distribution of Big Star's albums, and an odd, tentative attitude from too many radio stations unfairly benched Big Star's chances of becoming a household name. That strange neglect also ensured the premature departures of Bell and Hummel, and Big Star released only one more studio album, the cryptic "Third/Sister Lovers," before quietly crumbling apart at the end of 1974.
The documentary also focuses on Big Star's April 1993 reunion show in Columbia, Mo., which featured The Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow as replacements for Hummel and Bell. Footage of an ill-at-ease Chilton during the show's meet-and-greet session telegraphs his conflicted personality. When a fan asks Chilton to autograph an LP jacket of "Radio City," Chilton, standing with pen in hand, says, "If you keep buying them, I'll keep signing them."
Thankfully, "Nothing Can Hurt Me" also discusses the untimely deaths of Bell, Chilton and Hummel, as well as solo material like Bell's "I Am the Cosmos" and Chilton's country-esque "Free Again." Recent and from-the-vault interviews with the band, Bell's siblings, REM bassist Mike Mills, The Replacements, Matthew Sweet, The Flaming Lips, Teenage Fanclub and Cheap Trick are seen and heard; Cheap Trick recorded Big Star's "In the Street" as the theme song for TV's "That '70s Show."
As the film's end-credits roll, a slightly remixed version of "September Gurls" plays, with Chilton's shimmering electric guitar and Stephens' snare-drum pops coloring what simply is one the best rock songs ever created. "September Gurls," like the bulk of Big Star's 1970s output, stands away from the pack in an unashamed, utterly perfect way.
(c)2013 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
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