Life Is White

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Musical composition copyright ©1973 Ardent Productions, Inc.
Original material is copyrighted ©2002 and may not be reproduced
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Lyrics reproduced under fair use policy as defined here.

Author: Alex Chilton
Performed by: Big Star
Album: Radio City (Stax Records, 1973/Fantasy Inc., 1992)
Recorded at: Ardent Studios, Memphis

Personal notes: I've already written about my first encounter with Alex Chilton. What I didn't tell you then was how mixed my feelings were about him at that time. While I admire Alex's talent greatly, I have a slight disdain for some aspects of his personality. His vindictive nature has manifested itself in musical form numerous times throughout his career, but never so brilliantly as it did during the 1970s. This song is perhaps the pinnacle of Alex's personal bitterness towards another human being.

Big Star was originally Chris Bell's band. He asked Alex to join up after Alex left the Box Tops and New York City in 1971. Chris and Alex were friends at first, but ended up having a lot of artistic disagreements about the band and its direction. Chris was also deeply troubled with his homosexuality and was developing a serious heroin addiction. Both of these factors contributed to his departure from the band in early 1973. One of the songs Chris wrote for #1 Record (the first Big Star album) was entitled "My Life Is Right," a pop missive on love and self-affirmation. It is the source of this song's title; a sort of vengeful parody.

Even though I have known many of the people that were involved with Big Star during the period they existed as a group, few of them were willing to talk about this song. Tommy Hoehn revealed to me that it was written as a "fuck you" to Chris after he and Alex had their final falling-out. At the time it was recorded, Chris was away in Europe with his brother David, getting treatment in rehab and trying to establish himself as a solo artist. I guess Alex was so pissed off and disgusted with the situation that he wrote this song. I'm not sure who "Ann" is (mentioned in the lyrics), or what the relationship represents. Some critics have theorized that "Ann" is just Chilton's lyrical abstraction of the subject; he is really speaking directly to Bell.

One thing that makes this song particularly sour is its use of the harmonica. While mouth harps are commonly used during bridges and choruses of many songs, it is featured here throughout the entire piece. Coupled with the jangly, "falling apart" orchestration of keyboards and guitars, it dominates the other instruments and creates an edgy feeling. It's perfect, really.

Having followed Alex's work over the decades since Big Star's demise, I know that he has mellowed a lot. It happens to most of us. But this song is an everlasting shadow of the internal forces which ultimately destroyed one of the most influential American Britpop bands of all time. Consider this: Alex composed a tune, wrote these words to accompany it, recorded it with his band, and released it as the second track on their second album. So much hate. So much anger. It is a masterpiece of miserable pity and disgust, and a sad testament to the self-destructive nature of genius.


Lyrics:

Don't like to see your face.
Don't like to hear you talk at all.
I could be with Ann,
But I just can't fall.
Can't even bring myself to call.

And I don't want to see you now.
'Cause I know what you're like,
And I can't go back to that...

Whatever's all the same.
Now there's nobody to know.
And I can't recall,
And call your name.
All I can say is, "So?"

And I don't want to see you now.
'Cause I know what you're like,
And I can't go back to that.

Your life is white.
And I don't think I like
You hangin' around.

(instrumental bridge)
"Life is White"
"Life is White"


Don't like to see your face.
Don't like to hear you talk at all.
I could be with Ann,
But I just can't fall.
Can't even bring myself to call.

And I don't want to see you now.
'Cause I know what you're like,
And I can't go back to that now.

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