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You may not think you know Big Star. But you know that song that was used as the theme of That 70's Show? Sure it was Cheap Trick's version, but it was a Big Star song. You know "September Gurls" by The Bangles? That's a Big Star song. Maybe "The Ballad Of El Goodo" by Evan Dando from the Empire Records soundtrack? Also a Big Star song. And you've probably heard "The Letter" by The Box Tops, sung by Alex Chilton, future singer of Big Star, when he was 16. Then there's The Replacements' classic song Alex Chilton, an ode to the Big Star singer, and the Big Star tune "Thirteen" which has been covered by Garbage, Magnapop, Elliott Smith and Wilco...
Alex Chilton had number one hit with The Letter when he was 16, but was never able to duplicate the feat again. Much like Gram Parsons, Big Star and Chilton are oft cited as influences by current-day artists, but at the time languished in near obscurity. "Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me" paints a poignant picture of Big Star and especially Chilton and co-founder Chris Bell. Modelling themselves on Lennon/McCartney and Simon/Garfunkel, the pair with drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel named the band after a nearby grocery store and cheekily called their first album "#1 Record". Though it didn't top the charts, it is now recognized as a near-perfect pop-rock album. All three of Big Star's 1970s releases are included in Rolling Stone's best 500 albums of all time.
Mixing archival footage and current interviews with devotees such as Mike Mills of REM, along with family members, engineers and producers, the film is at times as much an homage to Memphis as it is to Big Star, featuring Ardent Studio and producer Jim Dickinson heavily. The film hits the ground running and barely delves into the members' pasts, but succeeds in admirably depicting their struggles with both external and internal forces. Far from a feel-good movie as there are few happy endings for anyone involved, "Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me" nonetheless paints a compelling portrait of a band and people who never really got their due, in an industry that can be unpredictable at best.
•Steve Donnelly Email
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