A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man

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Viking, 2014 - Biography & Autobiography - 370 pages
3 Reviews

A brilliant songwriter, virtuosic vocalist, and accomplished guitarist, the charismatic Alex Chilton was not only a bona fide rock star but perhaps the ultimate cult icon - one whose death on March 17, 2010, brought tributes from the New York Times to the House of Representatives. Chilton's career began with the 1967 hit 'The Letter,' on which the sixteen-year-old singer sang in a raspy baritone and created one of the epochal recordings of the era. But rather than following the usual rags-to-riches trajectory, Chilton worked his way downward; after stints in the chart-topping Box Tops and critically acclaimed, pioneering Big Star, he spent a decade experimenting with punk and roots music, eventually stepping away from his career and taking menial jobs as a dishwasher, janitor, and tree trimmer in New Orleans. By the mid-'90s, however, he rose again as an influential solo artist, producer, and trendsetter, with any number of indie bands laying claim to his legacy.

Award-winning journalist Holly George-Warren's A Man Called Destructionis the first biography of Chilton and a revelatory portrait of this extraordinary artist. Chilton had an unusual upbringing as a well-born Memphis 'art brat,' the son of a jazz musician father and art dealer mother, but shadows hung over a life that seemed outwardly charmed. 'The Letter' brought him instant fame followed by six Top 40 hits, yet the ever-restless Chilton left the Box Tops in 1970, spent a year in New York honing his craft as a songwriter, and eventually joined seminal power-pop band Big Star. Despite classic tracks like 'September Gurls,' 'In the Street,' and 'Thirteen,' commercial success eluded the group, although artists such as R.E.M., Wilco, the Replacements, and Counting Crows widely cite Chilton and Big Star as inspirations.

Following Big Star's flameout, Chilton's solo career found him drifting through New York City's punk scene, recording 'Bangkok' and producing the Cramps. After recording the shambolic Like Flies on Sherbert, he eventually landed in New Orleans. There, after a period of abstinence and manual labor, he experienced an artistic rebirth. Chilton not only began recording and writing again, developing a new devoted fan base, but be began touring, ultimately reuniting with both Big Star and the Box Tops in the 1990s.

A Man Called Destructionis both the story of an extraordinary musician and a richly detailed chronicle of pop music's evolution from the mid-1960s through indie rock, in which Alex Chilton will always play a central role.

Advance praise for A Man Called Destruction

'The immensely gifted and highly influential musician Alex Chilton has long deserved a big biography. Holly George-Warren's meticulously researched and beautifully written book shows us Chilton in all his mysterious glory. A Man Called Destructiongets to the heart of the man by focusing on the music he made (and the music that made him) with great precision and authority. I loved reading this sensitive, sympathetic, and intelligent portrait of a complicated and important figure.' Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia

'This book is the very definition of a labor of love. Every page of it is infused with Holly George-Warren's affection for a deep understanding of Alex Chilton and his ground-breaking work. Even its most candid moments are presented with empathy and a profound respect. Chilton could be thorny and difficult - he is fortunate to have found a biographer eager to untangle the knots of his character and to find the sweet heart beating within.' Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor, Rolling Stone

'More than just the tale of a hugely talented, influential, and undervalued rock & roll singer-songwriter, this book is about how fame's vagaries mess wi

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Kaethe - LibraryThing

Alex Chilton and Big Star are huge names in indie rock. Seriously, god-like in the reverence some hold them. And since I've never spent time hunting up obscure recordings, I knew the names, but was ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Caryn.Rose - LibraryThing

Painstaking, enthralling, detailed, full of history. For me, who came to Alex through the 80s underground, but remember him being part of the NYC downtown scene too, it connected the dots for me in a ... Read full review

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About the author (2014)

Holly George-Warren is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller The Road to Woodstock (with Michael Lang), Public Cowboy #1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry, Punk 365, and a dozen other books. The two-time Grammy nominee has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, the New York Times, The Village Voice, and Entertainment Weekly. Coeditor of The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, she served as the editorial director of Rolling Stone Press for eight years. She lives in upstate New York.

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