This, obviously, isn’t the kind of workout I’d rather be doing today. I should be going for a short run or swim with maybe a bike rider on. Unfortunately, the Workout Gods have not been smiling down on me this week and I’ve been laid up with an extremely painful back spasm that’s more or less kept me awake and nonfunctional for the past 72 hours. In this time, I’ve run the gauntlet of ibuprofen, muscle relaxants, medicinal rubs, chiropractic adjustments, massages, heated bean bags, hot tubs and, yes, even that godforsaken Devil’s brew they call Lakota Topical Pain Reliever; all to no avail. That is until a few hours ago when, apparently, the spasm loosened up a little and I’m feeling…okay. I mean, it’s not perfect, but it’s not that intense acute pain between the shoulder blades that feels like someone has stuck a knife in me. I’ll take it.
So, while, I’d rather be doing something else I’m taking it easy and going for a short walk instead just to keep moving, loose and, hopefully, keep my muscles from seizing up again. The soundtrack for this 35 minute walk (3.25k) around the neighborhood is the ‘Third/Sister Lovers‘ album by the greatest band that pretty much never was, Big Star.
‘Big Star‘ was an American power pop band formed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1971 by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel. The band drew on the vocal harmonies of The Beatles, as well as the swaggering rhythms of The Rolling Stones and the jangling guitars of The Byrds. Despite exceptional reviews from critics and widely acknowledged influence upon numerous notable musicians, Big Star attained only cult status, lacking commercial success. The group initially broke up in 1974, but later reorganized with a new line-up nearly 20 years later.
‘Third/Sister Lovers‘ is the band’s 3rd album release with the original line-up, issued in 1978, four years after the band had actually broken up. My Bible (Mojo, August 1995), ranks it as #40 in it’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Albums of All Time’. At the time of it’s recording it was deemed “non-commerical” enough to actually be released with any (only 250 copies were ever pressed) and it wasn’t until R.E.M. gave them some well overdue attention in the 80’s that more were ever produced. Not long after the release of the album, Bell died in a car accident. He apparently lost control of his car while driving alone and was killed when he struck a lamp post after hitting the curb a hundred feet before. A blood test found that he was not drunk at the time, and no drugs were found on him other than a bottle of vitamins. Bell is believed to have either fallen asleep at the wheel or become distracted.
Critically, the album is considered a shambling wreck of an album and ranks among the most harrowing experiences in pop music; impassioned, erratic, and stark, it’s the slow, sinking sound of a band falling apart. Recorded with their label, Stax, poised on the verge of bankruptcy, the album fiound Chilton pretty much at the end of his rope, sabotaging his own music long before it can ever reach the wrecking crew of poor distribution, indifferent marketing, and disinterested pop radio. In one description, it says this about the album:
“His songs are haphazardly brilliant, a head-on collision between inspiration and frustration, and the album is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, each song smacking of utter defeat and desperation. The result is either one of the most vividly emotional experiences in pop music or a completely wasted opportunity.”
However, with all this pre-investigation into album before, you know, actually listening to it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the album was not entirely the train wreck I fully expected it to be. Maybe it’s the pain meds in my system, I dunno, but I found it damn awesome actually and in no way worthy of The Shit List. So while the “powers that be” in the mid-70’s music biz all but dismissed it, I think Michael Stipe & the gang are bang on, this is some pretty profound shiznit!
It all starts off decently enough with the rocking ‘Kizza Me‘ and then by the 3rd track, ‘Big Black Car‘, it took nosedive down the rabbit hole into complete darkness leaving me with the impulse to slit my wrists with a shard of glass or some other sharp object I might find by the side of the road. But this isn’t a bad thing though. While ‘Jesus Christ‘ is a near throw away, I admit it, the cover the Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatal‘ is heartbreakingly delicate. ‘Holocaust’ is another achingly beautiful tune as is ‘For You‘ (my favorite). And on it goes with sad, painful song, one after the other. It’s not an album to run to, surely, but for a nice and easy ramble around the block to the mailbox on a gorgeous sunny day, it was the perfect accompaniment.