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Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop Paperback – September 28, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (September 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556525966
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556525964
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #625,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Memphis' Big Star had a short and tumultuous life in the early to mid '70s, but its legacy and impact are still felt today; Paul Westerberg, Peter Buck of REM, Matthew Sweet and Ryan Adams have all loudly sung the praises of this cult band that carved out a unique brand of power pop that went unheard by the masses after poor distribution, infighting, substance abuse and poor tour support coalesced to sink the band. If it weren't for the evangelism Big Star inspired in rock writers, they probably wouldn't have even made a second album, let alone a third. Jovanovic (Nirvana: The Complete Recordings, Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement) has an eye for detail, but this book is strictly for hardcore fans. His near-molecular dissection of band members' musical histories grows tiresome as more time is spent discussing the minutiae of the band's existence and recordings than their contributions to pop and rock music as a whole. While Jovanovic explains the factors that contributed to the band's downfall, he never fully explains why Big Star means so much to its small but devoted and influential following. That said, those who love the band will be in heaven with the fruits of Jovanovic's meticulous research: he includes an exhaustive discography, concert list and even a list of Big Star songs covered by other bands. Timed to coincide with the release of In Space, the band's first album of all-new music since 1975, this definitive biography is the ultimate Big Star reference. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Entertaining and informative."  —Time Out Chicago


"Too fascinating to pass up."  —Ruminator Review


"[Will] satisfy even the most knowledgeable Big Star fan."  —Harp Magazine


"Goes some way toward clarifying the story of the band."  —Nashville Scene


"Big Star served as a Rosetta stone for a whole generation of musicians."  —Peter Buck, R.E.M.


"The range of Alex's stuff, from sweet to nasty . . . and always interesting melodically, really inspired me to write."  —Matthew Sweet, musician


"Perhaps, the definitive Big Star biography . . . illustrates the band’s history with fanatical devotion and a historian’s drive for objectivity."  —Rockpile

Customer Reviews

This book is by far the best "rock group biography" I have ever read.
John T. McMullan
I had just read his book on Pavement, Perfect Sound Forever, and both books' strength lie in the amount of interviews he conducted with everyone involved.
A. C. Myers
If you wanna know about Big Star - this is your one stop shopping... Buy this book!
Dim Galaxy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By hyperbolium on June 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Given the giant family tree of pop bands who trace their lineage back to Big Star, their initial failure to gain commercial traction is remembered more in well-worn stories than in emotional memories. Those few who latched onto Big Star's two key albums at the time of their early-70s release may hold onto the sense memory of the band's celebrated obscurity, but for most, the Big Star story was learned after the fact. Author Rob Jovanovic has done an admirable job of connecting the dots that form the group's oft-repeated career low-lights, and fleshing out the individual band members (and the group's coterie) as humans behind the retrospective pop gods.

Jovanovic faced down several daunting problems in writing and publishing this book. First, the band's initial career was short and their output small, so the central part of the story arc wouldn't fill a book. Second, the band's principal singer and songwriter, Alex Chilton, declined to be interviewed by Jovanovic (quotes from Chilton are drawn from another writer's earlier interview). Jovanovic had to hurdle the group's lack of commercial breakthrough, and thus the relatively limited appeal of a band history. Their ancestral place in rock history may be secure, and their in-the-know following may be big, but to the mass audience, they're still a cult band. The shortness of their first run was solved by providing the group member's pre-Big Star work as valuable context; in Chilton's case, coming off a chart-topping career with the Box Tops, there's a great deal of material. In addition, the members, particularly Chilton again, had post-Big Star careers whose exploration provides informative echoes of the Big Star experience.
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Format: Paperback
I've been a fan since the Rykodisc release of Sister/Lovers in 1992 during my first year at college. This record is still a devastating, amazing thing of beauty. Alternating tracks can lift you up, then break your heart, and the effect is depressive but very real. It's a sort of lived in, well-earned heartache that echoes to this day. Alex Chilton is a genius. However, I saw him perform the next year, and I was disapointed in his perfunctory performance, which only included two Big Star songs. May I never have to hear Volare, in Italian or otherwise, again.

I had read enough about Big Star over the years to know their backstory, but I was intrigued by Rob Jovanovic's book length treatment. I had just read his book on Pavement, Perfect Sound Forever, and both books' strength lie in the amount of interviews he conducted with everyone involved. In fact, I might even have preferred an oral history of both bands, since their voices come through even stronger than the author's, most of the time. Nevertheless, he deserves great credit for the access he provides us to everyone who ever spent time at Ardent Studios during the 1970's. The story of Big Star is almost as sad as their third record, and you can feel the palpable disapointment of the young Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (at a point when they were still in their early 20s) at the bad luck they experienced in trying to translate sterling record reviews into sales (and the awful record distribution that hamstrung every effort).

Afterwards, at the very least, you'll want to listen to (or buy) all three original Big Star records. And then you'll want to go to Memphis, if you haven't already. The music of Big Star deserves, and even demands it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eric Collins on August 15, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rob Jovanovic deserves tremendous praise for stubbornly promoting his idea of a Big Star bio to publishers for years until one thankfully and finally said "yes." The result is a well-crafted and highly-detailed account of the power pop pioneers from Memphis. Jovanovic interviewed just about anyone who ever played a role in the band's existence, other than (obviously) the late Chris Bell, and the dour Alex Chilton. Bell emerges as the tragic hero of the story, while Chilton ultimately appears amazingly detached both emotionally and professionally.

My assumption listening to the records way back when was that Big Star had probably lived the typical band story - four friends who grow up together, spend years forging their craft together, and finally getting the chance to make a record. It turns out that Big Star's real story was quite different...two members going to the same school, or two jamming with a certain friend for a while...but the quartet we know as the "classic" Big Star lineup basically just falls together, records an album and a few demo songs for a follow-up, and then ends, with a grand total of seven gigs together. As a long-time fan of their music, I'm a little disappointed to learn this, so the book leaves me better informed but inevitably sadder. But if you want the Big Star story and all the details, buy this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Elliot F. Chodkowski on October 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
One reviewer states that this book is a "glorification of recklessness, failure, and self-indulgence". Implying that the pain and the tragedy in the career of Big Star were deserved.

First and foremost, Rob Jovanovic delivers it straight and detached. A good portion of the book is background and information; the anecdotes are delivered by the interviewees. Anyone who listens to the albums I am the Cosmos and Sister Lovers would expect a biography to address the personal circumstances behind the songwriters and the recordings, and the author does just that. If Jovanovic is glorifying these sorts of activites, than any writer who deals in these subjects does likewise. In a biography you don't make topics anathema because others may find them unpalatable.

It's a tragic tale, and "unexpected resurrection" might be pushing it. Any Big Star fan knows that the well-deserved public recognition will never happen, and even with "In Space" nothing has changed in the past fifteen years. Legions of musicians will still swear by the albums, critics and polls will rank the albums and the songs with the best, but the band will always be the most ironic band around. They'll never be Big Stars, and they'll never have a #1 Record.

Kudos to Rob for persevering. It appears that he has talked to everyone in and around the scene...with the notable exception of Alex Chilton, and perhaps many close to him. Rumors about Chris Bell will always remain so, overrated gossip with no factual basis. The chapter about his death is the highlight of the book. As a tragic figure he is responsible for his untimely death (NOT a suicide as the book confirms), but he certainly deserved better.

The water gets murkier when it comes to the subject of Alex Chilton.
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