As time passes, it gets harder to write about something you love, especially like a band – you veer between adoration, hero worship, teen obsession, musician’s arrogance and then rationality that brings you right back down to Earth, where you regain a sense of objectivity. That’s the moment when you tackle that beloved subject. Yet, some topics are second nature and the words – and the objectivity needed – come easily, so let me digress…
I can write about Big Star because they’re one of my favorite bands – they’re part of my holy trinity, along with The Beatles and The Who. I have written about Big Star on many occasions; all of those pieces were done with love and passion. It was suggested by many friends, etc. that I should, perhaps, write a book about them. Like The Beatles, etc., I never saw my entering the authoring fray as being something of value. What could I add to a story that’s been told on many occasions?
Rich Tupica is one of those people who had/have the tenacity and ability to do just this – undertake a task such as writing about a band that, although legendary at this point and time, has always been veiled in some amount of mystery, mainly due to its founder. Now, after five solid years of painstaking research and extremely hard work, Mr. Tupica’s epic tome on the deepest end of the Big Star story is finally ready as There Was A Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star is about to be released. It is a work that tries to peel away as many layers and questions that (may) remain about the man responsible for the sound and vision of Big Star and who, tragically, left the planet far too soon for his story to truly be complete.
Over 400+ pages, There Was A Light… is stocked with a wealth of previously-unseen color photos, personal ephemera from the Bell family’s archive, as well as everything Ardent Studios could jam in – it’s nothing short of breathtaking stuff! Starting with intense coverage of Bell’s childhood bands and continuing deep into his post-Big Star solo work, this book delves into the details beyond the 2012 documentary, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me – distilling countless hours of minutiae into a riveting oral history of one of rock’n’roll’s most beloved cult bands, and a trip through Memphis underground music history like no other. And that’s one of the major strengths of this book and the way it’s laid out/written – it’s narrated by friends, family, associates and bandmates of Chris Bell and this keeps the story interesting. Culled from not only the aforementioned documentary but from conversations Mr. Tupica was actually able to capture for posterity and many pieces from the archives, the book does not serve as not a wistful remembrance of a brother/friend/bandmate who died 40 years ago. It feels more like a personal collection of memories about someone who IS still genuinely looked upon with love, affection and respect – and missed just as much now as when Mr. Bell had his tragic accident. Even more saliently, in reading through carefully, Chris Bell was not exactly the “fragile” being many stories and legends (per se) have painted him to be, which is not only illuminating, it’s actually a very positive thing to read as it, indeed, belies the oft-repeated myth(s).
The balance of the story is the aftermath of Mr. Bell’s departure and the domination/direction of Alex Chilton – which I don’t need to elaborate on, because you all know THAT tale! But again, coming from this “conversational” narrative, it makes the overall history just that little bit more interesting/intriguing. A very astute move (on the whole) for Mr. Tupica to arrange the book in this fashion. Coupled with Rob Jovanovic’s wonderful – and only other published biography of Big Star – this is the perfect companion piece to (hopefully) tie the entire Big Star/Chris Bell story together. Combine all of these with The Complete Chris Bell boxset (six vinyl albums, PLUS one containing the only known recorded interview with Chris Bell) and you have a beautifully painted picture in both story and song.
There Was A Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star will be released August, 2018