Holly George-Warren’s new biography on Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction: the Life and Music of Alex Chilton From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, is a true cautionary tale, especially if you’re planning on becoming a rock star. Talent and hard work don’t always translate to success. What you do, no matter how good it is, can be so anachronistic as to render your hard work audience-less for decades. Drugs and alcohol can really mess things up (duh). You only have a small amount of control over success, recognition and financial rewards. But despite all this, you may still be considered a legend. Sound like fun?
Chilton, who died in 2010, was a long-time veteran of the music business. As a teenager he was leader of the Box Tops, who in the late 1960s had several huge hits, including “The Letter.” Go back and listen to that song. Is that the sound of a 16-year-old? That Chilton sounded wise beyond his years at so young an age was part of his appeal. The Box Tops dissolved after roughly three years of endless recording and touring, leaving Chilton to pursue his own muse with a new group, Big Star. It’s in 1970 that his story really gets interesting. The formation, creative drive, internal conflicts, ultimate dissolution and subsequent reunion of the group are honestly portrayed, providing new insights into the various factors leading to Big Star’s following. Yes, things get tawdry. This was the early 70's rock scene. But the best part of George-Warren’s writing is her nonjudgmental view on the darker aspects of Chilton’s talents, resulting in a sympathetic view of an uncompromising, difficult artist.
A Man Called Destruction: the Life and Music of Alex Chilton From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man should appeal to fans of classic rock and those interested in the great should-have-beens in music history.