This weekend I finally caught up with Nothing Can Hurt Me, the documentary about the late great sui generis 1970s Memphis British Invasion-influenced power-pop band Big Star.
Drew DiNicola and Olivia Mori's 2012 film has been up streaming on Netflix since the first of the year, so there's no longer any excuse. The movie is essential for Big Star fans, and compelling on its own terms, though I can't say that I feel I know Alex Chilton all that much better than I did before I saw it. But then it doesn't seem like many of his fellow Memphians that talk about him in the movie knew the frequently self-destructive and sardonic mystery man very well when he was alive, either.
At one point, in the sad, subdued story, Big Star drummer Jody Stephens explains that he assumes Chilton must have been enjoying himself during the band's 1990s reunion shows, because he never knew the singer-guitarist to do anything he didn't want to do. That kind of guess work was required when it came to Chilton, who spoke and frequently sang with a mixture of sincerity and sarcasm that was difficult to parse.
Before his death in 2010, Chilton made plenty of great music, though, dating back to his success as a teenage soul-pop singing phenomenon with the Box Tops' "The Letter." As did Chris Bell, the second supremely talented singer and writer in Big Star, who died in a car wreck in 1978, and whose vocal delivery is so similar to Chilton's that people often misheard his contributions on the wondrous 1972 #1 Record as being by his bandmate.