By: Myles Herod April 3, 2013
During their existence, no one ever heard of Big Star. And if you did, you were cooler than most.
At the heart of the touching new documentary, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, is a dilemma synonymous with musical lore: what went wrong.
Big Star never grasped the fanfare that was worthy of their proto-power pop sensibilities; a potent mix stewed by stalwarts Chris Bell and Alex Chilton – both musical wunderkinds of sorts. Not unlike Lennon and McCartney, both Chilton and Bell epitomized that rare cosmic pairing, searing their lyrical prowess, sonic ambitions and aching voices on what would their debut, ‘#1 Record.”
Though their first two albums earned raves in major publications, notably Rolling Stone Magazine, their labels distribution problems and record company woes made them nearly impossible to find on the shelves.
The film does an interesting job in not only tracing the bands rise and fall, but also capturing the texture of the era. Case in point – a long, but humorous sup-plot involving a Memphis rock critic conference held in 1973, where debauchery and greasy-haired excess culminated in a Big Star show, the only time the band connected with perfect audience, as the film highlights with bittersweet nostalgia.
Cited as “one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock ‘n’ roll” the film uses never-before-seen footage and superb interviews to great aplomb. Here is a tale of forgotten pop forerunners, from their initial creative explosion and subsequent commercial failure, to their fractured split onto the beaten paths of punk, depression, death and revival. If nothing else, Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel had and immeasurable power over the likes of R.E.M. and others, who in turn, would mold their sound into what would be coined ‘alternative’ music 20 years later. Truth be told, they’re bigger stars now than ever before.