Given the recent spate of Music Films – the term we must henceforth give to “rockumentaries” – it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone has finally made a doc about Big Star.
I went to see its London Film Festival premiere on Saturday (seated next to Tom Sheehan, who photographed and drank with the late Chris Bell in London) and absolutely loved it, even though it presumed a basic level of initiation/infatuation with Messrs. Bell, Chilton, Stephens, Hummel et al that my darling wife, for one, does not share. Great footage (from the 1973 Rock Writers’ Convention, among other places) and smart talking heads combine to make Nothing Can Hurt Me an extraordinary story of contrariness, rotten luck, out-of-stepness and genuine musical brilliance.
Big Star should have been big stars – and might have been had they not hailed from Memphis. But then Big Star wouldn’t have been Big Star if they’d come from London or Los Angeles. Memphis’ ’70s mix of southern debauchery and avant-garde experimentation was central to the band’s story, and director Drew DeNicola gets it very nicely in Nothing Can Hurt Me.
In May 1999 I went to Memphis to research a MOJO story on Big Star and experienced at first-hand the sheer perversity of LX Chilton. He was friendly enough to approach me before Big Star’s set, but then later – after months of trying to get him on the phone for a proper follow-up interview – he called to say that, while he had nothing against me personally, “for you to write about me would be the best way for me to begin to have something against you.” Peter Holsapple called him The Man Who Preferred Not To, after Melville’s Bartleby.
My friend Holly George-Warren is currently researching a Chilton biography, so I hope to learn a lot more about that extraordinary man when it comes out.