I Just Came From the Big Star Ricki C.

I just came from the Big Star movie at Colin and Brian Phillips' Reelin' & Rockin' Series at the Gateway Theater.   It's a pretty great movie.  You should go see it when it opens at the Gateway for its regular run, I think in September.  (Johnny DiLoretto, a little help?)

Anyway, as I was driving home under a gorgeous full moon I was thinking about the parallels between Big Star's and Watershed's careers.  They were both power pop bands from out-of-the-way locales.  (Let's face it, when Big Star emerged in 1972, Memphis hadn't exactly been a hotbed of rock & roll since the  mid-1950's heyday of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Phillips' groundbreaking Sun Studios.)  Big Star's No. 1 Record  came out in the middle of heavy-metal, prog-rock & the sensitive singer/songwriter boom of early 70's America, and was promptly buried underneath all that musical mediocrity.  Who needed a cool Beatle-esque pop band with great lyrics and killer harmonies when you could gobble a handful of 'ludes and nod out to Led Zep or a 15-minute drum solo from Foghat.   (As a matter of fact I heard Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" on the Newark oldies station on my drive home and thought, "Jesus, why couldn't this be "When My Baby's Beside Me"  or "Thirteen" instead?)  Watershed's Twister  was released in 1995 as the Seattle grunge juggernaut was crushing everything in its path, with its lyrical themes of "Give up your dreams, kids, all is death & misery, kneel & listen as we pummel you with our ponderous fusion of heavy-metal & bad punk."  That's not rock & roll.  

Oddly, the very first conversation I ever had with Colin Gawel back in 1990 when I was a roadie for Willie Phoenix and Watershed was Willie's opening band at Ruby Tuesday's touched on Big Star.  Watershed had just delivered a killer set of mostly new material - including "Rise," their first TRULY GREAT song - and I said to Colin, "So do you guys listen to Big Star, The Scruffs, The Records and all those other 70's power-pop bands?"  (I knew Willie was producing the guys.  I figured he had hooked them up with the bands Willie and I had bonded over back in 1978.)  Colin just kinda looked down at his shoes and mumbled, "Uh no, mostly we listen to Kiss and Rush and Triumph."  "Triumph!?!" I said/scolded, and that pretty much ended the conversation.  (Years later, after I became a member of Watershed's road crew and recounted the conversation to Colin - which he had no memory of - in the band van, Colin admitted he had never even HEARD of Big Star at that point and that he only mentioned Triumph because he considered them an obscure rock name to conjure with.)

The most striking difference in the Big Star and Watershed stories, though, is how SAD the Big Star story turns out.  The band descended from the lofty heights of 1972's No. 1 Record and 1973's truly sublime Radio City  to the depths of Third/Sister Lovers in 1975, just two short years later.  Three of the original four members have left this life, well before their time.     

Watershed, however, have just kept plugging away in the 20 years since they were dropped by major label Sony.  They made arguably their best album - 2002's The More It Hurts, The More It Works - 15 years into their career, and possibly their second-best, Brick & Mortar, just last year in 2012, 25 years in.  Not a bad record (pun intended) of creative longevity for a rock & roll band.   But nobody in Watershed has died, or had their careers cut short by drugs & alcohol, so no movie.  The band's biggest casualty to date, drummer Dave Masica, screwed up his back working his day-job as a cook at a country club.  Not exactly Gimme Shelter-level cinematic material.        

I realize that some readers out there might find this incredibly self-serving, coming from a member of the band's road crew, but I was a Watershed fan long before and for many more years than I've been an employee of the group, and I just wanna say this: Thank you Colin, Joe, Herb & Dave (and Pooch & Joe Peppercorn) for the music and  for the memories.  

I just came from the Big Star movie, and while it vividly demonstrates that there is no justice in rock & roll, it also eminently demonstrates that there are many heart-loads of wonder. - Ricki C. / August 21st, 2013.