Among many avid music fans and rock critics, Big Star is widely regarded as one of the greatest bands in rock ’n’ roll history – even though most people have never heard of them.
To promote the band’s legacy, WTJU 91.1 FM – the University of Virginia’s noncommercial educational radio station – is sponsoring a new, highly acclaimed documentary about the legendary Memphis rock band that many consider to be the progenitors of “alternative” or “indie” rock.
“Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” will be screened Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Tickets are $6 ($5 for students; $4 for 12-and-under) and are available at the Paramount box office or online by clicking here.
The event is part of WTJU’s ongoing commitment to community outreach through innovative and educational programming, said Nathan Moore, general manager of WTJU-FM.
“I love that we’re able to partner with the Paramount to sponsor this film,” he said. “WTJU is all about bringing together our community and creating experiences through music.”
WTJU is giving away 20 pairs of tickets on-air, as well as copies of the soundtrack and T-shirts. Ten pairs of tickets are also being given away through WTJU’s Facebook page, based around a Big Star trivia quiz.
With never-before-seen footage and photos of the band, in-depth interviews and a rousing musical tribute by the bands they inspired, the Big Star documentary is a story of artistic and musical salvation.
“If ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me’ leads even one person to listen to Big Star for the first time, this movie will have done a great service,” wrote Chris Nashawaty in his review for Entertainment Weekly.
Charlottesville native Olivia Mori, the documentary’s co-director and producer, will attend the screening and take part in an audience Q&A about the film and the legacy of Big Star.
“The story that producer-director Olivia Mori and writer-director Drew DeNicola reconstruct has the power to move even those who prefer Mozart or Lil Wayne,” movie critic Mark Jenkins wrote in his review on NPR.org.
Big Star never achieved “big-star” status until years after its demise. While mainstream success eluded them in the ’70s, Big Star’s three albums eventually became acknowledged pop masterpieces and critically lauded touchstones of the rock music canon.
Still, the band’s greatest notoriety remains their song, “In the Street,” the title theme for the Fox sitcom, “That ’70s Show.” Despite their cult status, today Big Star’s influence can be heard in the music of artists such as Wilco, R.E.M. and Flaming Lips, to name just a few.
Fortunately, Big Star now receives not only the recognition it deserves, but full royalties from its recorded body of work, which has been repackaged in many different ways over the years. Unfortunately, among its founding members – Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, Chris Bell and Andy Hummel – only the band’s drummer, Stephens, is still alive.
Big Star fell victim to the corporate stranglehold of the major record labels and radio stations that dominated the music business in the early ’70s. The documentary can be seen as a cautionary tale of the growing corporatization of pop music as music conglomerates marginalized American independent labels.
During that era, artists such as Big Star, whose musical vision and style were not deemed worthy of radio play, were destined for obscurity – that is, until bands started being discovered by a new breed of musical upstarts who came from the punk scene in New York or, most importantly, from college towns throughout America.
“Without indie rock, there would not have been a WTJU,” said Elizabeth Hull, a U.Va. and WTJU alum known on-air as “That Girl.” “And since without Big Star, indie rock probably wouldn’t have happened, then without Big Star, WTJU wouldn’t have become the free-spirited and indie-minded [station] that it is today.”
Moore added, “Big Star may have been underappreciated when they were releasing their albums, but their music had a huge influence on the music that WTJU has been playing for decades.”
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