Book Review: Holly George-Warren, “A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton”

Written by Book Reviews, Books

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Holly George Warren did an exemplary job of writing about Alex Chilton, the frontman of ’60’s hitmakers The Box Tops, the ramshackle director of his solo career and of course, the driver behind one of the most important bands in history, the legendary Big Star.  Ms. George-Warren was able to speak to as many friends, associates, etc. of Chilton’s and delivers as comprehensive a biography as one could hope with A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man.  Alex Chilton was, for good, bad or indifferent, a fascinating man – he was a character, especially when reading this book or seeing the 2012 documentary Big Star:  Nothing Can Hurt Me or even gleaning Rob Janovic’s Big Star band history.  He was cocksure of himself yet doubt-filled; passionate yet disconnected – Chilton was a mass of contradictions.  At least on the surface that he showed.

And that is the problem – as good of a book this is and as fine a job as Ms. George-Warren did in researching, etc., there isn’t anything specifically new we learn about Alex Chilton; no shocking revelations.  All we know about Mr. Chilton is pretty much from the surface.  A great deal of it are anecdotes and stories heard and read previously; it is by no means the fault of Ms. George-Warren, who is an excellent writer – it was the will of Alex Chilton.  Simply put, he was a somewhat private person who did not like to be interviewed; at times he shunned the limelight and did not care to/want to divulge all that much about his personal life.  For all the legendary hell-raising stories that have gathered over the years, the quieter, more thoughtful man is harder to extract from the book – or any written pieces about him, for that matter.  The loss is that you don’t get a sense of who Alex Chilton was – and that’s fine; I respect anyone and everyone’s right to keep themselves to themselves.  However, biographies are supposed to widen the spectrum on an individual and because Alex Chilton was his own biggest roadblock, this one fleshed out the facts but it couldn’t color in the full picture for me.  He was who he was – an incredible, gifted musician who held true to his artistic visions and he’ll always be one of my heroes.  Full marks to Holly George-Warren for doing as remarkable a job as she did.

If you don’t know anything about Alex Chilton, Big Star or The Box Tops, this book is essential reading.  It’s a damn good read anyway, but if you want an education, here it is.