Third/Sister Lovers: Correspondences

In a work as complex and multi-faceted as Big Star’s “Third/Sister Lovers,” what emerges upon repeated listens is complex too. One thing I’m beginning to spot in the piece are correspondences. Here are a fewof the more notable ones: what Alex Chilton does with major seventh chords ties “Big Black Car” and Chilton’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Femme Fatale” together— lyrically, the songs hinge on despair, intoxication, and seen and unseen danger. The major seventh chords Chilton uses express specifically vulnerability in this context. They also express something crepuscular, something shadowy. “Holocaust” and “Kizza Me,” the lead off track, may seem an unlikely correspondence. What connects them is that they are both in a minor key, and all the songs between are in major keys. HowI interpret the correspondence is this: “Holocaust” in many ways starts the album over again, by “re-doing” the protagonist, re-painting his portrait. An “up” vision of perversity and lust in “Kizza Me” decomposes and decays into the abject self-loathing (shot through with drunken self-consciousness) of “Holocaust.” The connection between “Femme Fatale” and “Holocaust” is also interesting, and has to do with the “everybody” of Dana and her destructive and carnivorous social network. Dana’s friends knowthat she’s a femme fatale, but are too dependent on her magnetism and binding force to break away from her. If they judge Chilton as protagonist harshly, and leave him behind, it’s because they find his vulnerability unacceptable. The Chilton protagonist is perverse: his sense of language is off-beat and “lateral,” he has a sarcastic streak that emerges in “Thank You Friends” and “You Can’t Have Me.” The perversity of “Kizza Me” is more about the willfulness of his sexual desire for Lesa, whose intermittent prominence in “Third/Sister Lovers” makes her another shadowy form within the tone poem or painting. The relationship between “Jesus Christ” and the rest of the album is intriguing: it demonstrates another side of the Chilton protagonist, one that favors purity over perversion. Who “they” are, those who rejoice at the birth of Jesus, are the inverse of the harsh, banal, pretentious scenesters who shut Chilton out from Dana and her own perverse boudoir. This

crowd are “devils” or “demons” in a sense, and “Jesus Christ” is essential to demonstrate that the Chilton protagonist has something sublime and spiritualized in him. Howdifferent, as characters, are Lesa and Dana? The basic argument I have to put forth is that the are flip sides of the same coin. Lesa is retiring and Dana in compulsively social, but both demonstrate the same intractable selfishness in situations concerning Chilton. That, by “Take Care,” Chilton has rejected both out of spiritual necessity is a hinge to positing this. Adam Fieled

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