Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TVD's Record Store Day 2010 Label Showcase | Ardent Records, Music, and Studios | Alex Chilton's Years with the Panther Burns

by Tav Falco

Let us raise our glasses to a fallen comrade. And ask ourselves did we celebrate this man in life as we do now in death? Ah yes, we embraced our comrade and drew him close to our hearts and minds... as close as he would allow. Sure he touched us literally and he touched us profoundly: as an artist with lyrical intensity, as a person with camaraderie granted and camaraderie rebuffed. Such are the complexities of the artist and of the person. We realize it's not so easy to be friends with an artist, especially a gifted one. His smile often twisted into a leer, even when he was amused by your bonhomie and by your adulation. Be careful of tendencies: OK we’ve created it; now let’s deconstruct it. Godhead on the one hand, destroying angel on the other… Lord help you if you were caught in between. His tones were golden, and he knew that... better than anyone. Was he resentful because he had given so much, and had received less than the key to the temple of abiding good fortune and fame immemorial? Was he content in his rickety 18th cottage on the edge of the French Quarter surrounded by his guitars and aquatints and a cognoscenti of musicians who celebrated him as we do now? Did he draw all that he could take from his talents? Did he quaff draughts of indolence? The answers mean little, and the questions even less. What matters is that those whom he touched, were touched immutably. His legacy is of the mind, of the soul, of earthly pleasure, and of just and lost causes. He left us that redeeming spark of wit and flame to keep us going when were hovering down in the foxhole of doubt and uncertainty and dodging the adverse missives of Lady Luck... comforted in thinking that Alex would have liked that, or he would have appreciated this, or he would have been elated by this or that, or let’s do it the way Alex does it. His opinion, his taste, his love is what matters in the end. The last time I saw Alex was in Paris visiting in his posh suite at Hotel George le Cinq. He was pleased with his rooms, and we stayed up late while he merrily tutored me with the unending music lesson that had been on-going since I met him some twenty-five years before... the lesson that never seemed to quite 'take', and which I understood little better than the first time he drilled me. He would say /Tav, somebody's got to keep the rhythm/. And now I wonder, as the last grain of sand has sped through the hourglass, /who... /will keep the rhythm? Raise our glasses to console the living for the loss of a comrade fallen in the snow, which in its chill and whiteness is purifying, rather than fallen in the desert, which is barren.

TONS OF REVERB: Alex Chilton's Years with the Panther Burns
by Ross Johnson

I played drums with Alex in Tav Falco's Panther Burns off and on from 1979 until 1998 (I played my last gig with Alex in '98 in such an intoxicated state that I was too ashamed to contact him again afterward and he was clearly through with me as a drummer after I let him down for the last time at that show in New Orleans).

The Panther Burns were a noisy, irritating insult in early days and Alex delighted in punishing audiences with our blend of demented, tuneless rockabilly, blues and tango. I've said it before in print, but Alex was the only musician in the group who could actually play his instrument for the first year or two of his tenure with the "band." I had never played with a musician of his caliber before and, frankly, I know that I never will again.

Since his death a few days ago I've been reflecting on Alex both musically and personally, and I can't easily separate the two realms. His singular guitar playing style (you heard traces of Lowman Pauling, Reggie Young, Pop Staples, Steve Cropper, Teenie Hodges, and many other masters whenever he strapped on a six string) seemed such a function of his own unique personality and approach to life. As with most great artists, it was impossible to separate the person from the art; they often seemed one and the same with him. Alex always did things his own way whether that approach seemed commercially profitable or personally advisable for him or not. He knew his own mind, you might say. He was many things, Alex was, but a sellout, never.

As to the issue of his personality, well, let's just say that if you displeased him he was very clear and direct in letting you know the full and exact nature of his dissatisfaction with you. I still wince at the memory of the well deserved verbal "corrections" he handed out to me for musical and other shortcomings. Alex could be brutally honest in certain situations and dealing with that direct communication style of his was often difficult.

It was for me, I know that much. He could also be the dearest and most sympathetic of friends too, offering thoughtful and heartfelt advice if it was solicited. His occasional verbal toughness masked a rather fragile, vulnerable core, I thought. I will remember him not as a rock star or as a mythic cult figure or even as one of the world's greatest musicians (although he was most certainly the latter) but rather as a man who was always deeply interested in other people and whose own pain and suffering were transformed by his transcendent musical gift into some of the most universally affecting and haunting music ever made.

No comments: