Monday, July 08, 2013

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me


They are considered one of the most influential American bands of all time, but up until the 1990s they did not get the love they truly deserved. While those who heard their music fell in love with them instantly, Big Star’s sound never seemed to connect with mainstream audiences. Not for a lack of trying mind you but, as with most musical geniuses, their music was just too ahead of its time. It would take several years before their sweet melodies and unique guitar hooks would influence a whole generation of rock musicians.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the name Big Star, you have no doubt heard their music or at least know of bands who site them as major influences. Big Star’s song “In the Street” was used as the opening theme song for the 90’s sitcom That 70’s Show and bands such as R.E.M., Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips, The Replacements and Yo La Tengo all claim to be disciples of Big Star’s sound. So how did such a highly regarded band go unnoticed for so long? This is what directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori set out to answer in their engaging documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Part love letter to Big Star, the film shows how the co-founders of the band, Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, strived to create music that pushed the boundaries while still remaining relevant. Big Star’s songs tapped into the pain of life and turned it into something beautiful. They were taking rock and roll to a melancholy and angst filled place many years before grunge music would become a fad. In an era where hippie music was dominant, and image over content was selling, Big Star was a refreshing musical revelation to many of the jaded music writers of the time.

DeNicola and Mori tell Big Star’s story through archival footage and interviews with both prominent music writers of the time and those especially close to the band. The film not only offers insight into the Memphis music scene, but also explains how fate always seemed to deal Big Star a bad hand just as they were on the edge of success. Despite the bands innovation and talent, they could not shake the string of bad luck that occurred both personally and professionally. It is a wonder that the goup was even able to make the three albums that they did.

It is a shame that, as is the case with many musical artists, it took so long for others to catch up to the heights of Big Star. However, thanks to generations of musicians still singing their praises; and films like Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me initiating the uninformed, the legacy of Big Star will live on. Fans of Big Star will get comfort in the way the film pays tribute to the band. While newcomers will not only find Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me informative, but will also be itching to get their hands on the Big Star albums once the film ends.

3 comments:

  1. I want to see this doc so bad. I'm a big fan of Big Star and I was really gutted when Alex Chilton passed away. They were the band that I felt never got their due as I discovered them in my early 20s when I found their first 2 albums in 1-CD set and just fell in love with the music. I eventually got their third album via the Internet as it's out of print and that's my favorite album. I'm just happy there's a doc out there that will tell the story about what I think is one of the greatest bands out there.

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    1. I had not heard of the band prior to seeing this film. I knew the theme song for That 70's Show, but never associated it with the group. After seeing Nothing Can Hurt Me, I am looking forward to diving into their albums.

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    2. Well then. I'd start with the first two albums #1 Record and Radio City as it's power-pop at its most purest. Then got for the 1992 Rykodisc version of Third/Sister Lovers which is the most definitive version of the album and my favorite album of theirs. 2005's In Space is all right but I would only recommend it if you're a hardcore fan. I would also get the Keep An Eye on the Sky box set which includes a lot of great work from the band.

      My introduction of Chilton's work with Big Star and solo came in the form of a compilation album called 19 Years which includes some of his best solo stuff. I'd also check out Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos album which is truly a great companion piece to the Big Star material.

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