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.

Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The Big Star story is full of “what ifs”. What if the 1st record had proper distribution and had become an International hit? (1972’s modestly titled #1 Record). What if Chris Bell hadn’t left the band and had carried on his songwriting with Alex Chilton? Would the world be in awe of Big Star’s mythic 3rd record, Third / Sister Lovers? Would the world be blessed with the equally haunting solo LP from Chris Bell, I Am the Cosmos? That’s a lot of questioning, and sadly the story remains the same – Chris Bell left Big Star after the 1st record and faced personal problems and difficulties in getting his music heard (Alex Chilton & the rest of Big Star faced these issues concurrently, to be discussed another day). Sadly, Chris Bell’s story came to an end with a fatal automobile accident in late 1978. Earlier that year he had released his 1st officially released solo single I Am the Cosmos b/w You And Your Sister. Bell had a spiritual yearning and had an interest in Christianity – I Am the Cosmos alludes to a higher power, interjecting romantic insecurity along the way. Chris Bell’s voice conveys pain and hope in equal measures, whilst the melodic guitar refrain / solo running through the track might be the finest playing of Bell’s career. Truly, one of my favorite songs of all time. It wasn’t until 1992 that the single was compiled along with unreleased recordings to give the world a solo Chris Bell LP also titled I Am the Cosmos (reissued in 2009 with tons of more goodies). “Every night I tell myself  / “I am the cosmos, I am the wind”  / But that don’t get you back again”