There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star by Rich Tupica

The legend of Big Star – and the solo careers of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton – came to me sometime in the mid 90’s while I was deep in my pseudo intellectual elitist underground band phase. The idea that this deeply emotional – spiritual, even – music failed to make an impact when released intrigued me. Big Star’s #1 Record is the only Big Star album to feature Chris Bell, one of the band’s founders who would go onto lead an interesting life in the 70’s and unfortunately became a member of the “27 Club” after a car wreck in 1978. His solo recordings were released posthumously on the 1992 compilation I Am the Cosmos. Alex Chilton gained notoriety for his prickly personality, his association with the punk scene, his drug fueled sessions for Big Star’s Third / Sister Lovers, and basically being dismissive of Big Star for most of his life. I like Alex Chilton – respect him, like most of his music, and am appreciative of his contributions to the Big Star legacy. I LOVE Chris Bell with all my heart. The 1st time I heard his solo music, it was an eye-opening experience. Pain, spirituality, longing, and romance all seemed to coexist within these songs. They spoke to me on a visceral level in a way that I’ve experienced with only a few other artists. This book takes various interviews conducted over the last 45+ years and tells the narrative of the Big Star story with a focus on Chris Bell. It features countless photos that haven’t been seen before and a unique perspective that makes the reader feel a part of the story. Chris Bell is still gaining fans in the modern era which is an incredible feat for someone who sold so few records in his lifetime. The book outlines what was happening with Big Star after Chris left the band and explores what Chris was doing in those years. Not just a music based biography – this is an interesting overview of his entire life.  There have been a few other Big Star books that I enjoyed – this one is the best of the lot. People close to Chris have done well preserving, building up, and promoting his legacy and genius. The book is available here and the 1st printing is a limited run of 500. I highly recommend it.

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Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

I’ve long been a David Lynch fan – dating back to my early teens in the early 90’s. His films entranced me – exploring the seedy side of life, love, sex, & violence. I was also drawn to the sometimes subtle humor in his films – quirky with small town vibes. Room to Dream operates as an autobiography AND biography. Kristine McKenna writes a chapter – and was given almost unlimited access to people from Lynch’s life – while David Lynch follows up with his perspectives on that chapter. It is an engaging read that gives light to many of Lynch’s inspirations. Of particular note to me was that the 2 years that David Lynch spent in Philadelphia in the late 60’s has influenced each and every work. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I never realized that before. The diner from Twin Peaks makes a whole lot of sense now – it is a throwback to those glorious diners of Philadelphia (I’ve spent quite a bit of time growing up in those diners). There are stories of how he decided to go into film instead of painting (an afternoon breeze caused movement on his work, causing an “aha!” moment). There are behind the scenes looks at each of his films. A little light on 1990’s Wild at Heart but tons of Twin Peaks, The Elephant Man, Dune, and Mulholland Drive stories. Above all, David Lynch is dedicated to the art life. A sobering chapter near the end explores the 2017 series Twin Peaks: The Return. It is revealed that after the series wrapped, Lynch moved into his guest house – the grueling schedule put a rift in his relationship (though he is still married as of mid 2018). There’s a part of me that admires that and a part of me that can’t quite comprehend it. There is a lot to love in this book and I can’t say enough positive things about it. I’d recommend getting the physical hardback version since there are multiple images and references that won’t come across right on a tablet. Not quite a biography and not quite an autobiography though it comes across as both sometimes, this book explores his childhood, personal life, films, artistic aesthetic, and personal stories. It answers some questions and creates others – not unlike a David Lynch film. Highly recommended.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow is the 2nd novel by Amor Towles and was published in late 2016. An unexpected delight, I stumbled into this novel accidentally and I’ve walked away with that feeling of enrichment that only great literature can provide. The main protagonist is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov – sentenced to house arrest in 1922 for writing a poem. My kind of rebel. Rostov is sentenced to live out his days in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol and is labeled a “Former Person”. What was interesting to me was that while Russia’s political landscape changed outside of the Hotel Metropol (Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, and Khrushchev all figure in this novel), the human interactions within the hotel are blissfully unencumbered by turmoil. How does an aristocrat go from traveling the world to living out his days under house arrest? “If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” our main character tells us. Along the way we learn about Russian history, meet Rostov’s friends, lovers, and even his daughter. The family history and flashbacks were winning sequences. The frantic adventures and hipster intellectual dialogue reminded me quite a bit of a Wes Anderson film. I could see with my mind’s eye vivid colors, a soundtrack, and felt emotions rising within me as the novel raced towards its climax. The conclusion offers a bit of a twist ending that isn’t resolved in a deux ex machina way. The years pass quickly in the 400+ page novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.