I Am the Cosmos – Chris Bell

I Am the Cosmos

Chris Bell

1992 / 2009

Rykodisc / Rhino Handmade

Chances are, you’ve probably heard yourself some music by the cult legend Chris Bell. Along with Alex Chilton, he formed the band Big Star in the ’70s, co-leading the band for their first album.  His songs (solo and with Big Star) have been popping up for decades now, whether being the theme song to That ’70s Show or being influences of R.E.M. and The Replacements.  Hell, Bell’s song “Speed of Sound” was even in the opening credits of the God-awful film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or as I prefer to call it, Hipster: The Movie.

Struggling with depression and heroin addiction for most of his life, Bell unfortunately died (a member of the 27 Club) in 1978.  I Am the Cosmos is his only solo album, a collection of the songs he recorded over the course of a few years in the mid-1970s.  And it’s a beautiful collection, to say the least, sometimes showing the songwriter at his most fragile and other times proving his rock and roll influences.  Even with his troubles — or maybe because of them — Bell opens up these songs with feelings of purity, naivety, and honesty.

I am so not kidding when I say that I want that sweater.

The melodies on this posthumous album are infectious, rivaling even the catchiest tunes on #1 Record, Big Star’s first and most cult-classic album.  The title track has his delicate voice over an almost acid-rock genre of music, his sensibilities as a songwriter bringing out a great, eccentric love song.  He goes between “Every night I tell myself, “I am the cosmos / I am the wind” / But that don’t get you back again” and the ending repetition of “I’d really like to see you again / I really wanna see you again.”  On the Paul McCartney-esque “Make A Scene,” Bell brings in an absolutely catchy song, even using a rare aggression in his voice.  Of course, this kind of vocal style is mainly offset by his softer, folky songs which comprise most of the album, such as the religious “Look Up” or the fractured “You and Your Sister,” the latter of which features a minimum amount of his signature harmonies to further the mood.

Surely, the depression of Chris Bell seems to seep through the cracks in his songs.  His lyrics certainly hint at it, with the brutal honesty of “When I look through your eyes / I tend to get bitter” opening up “Though I Know She Lies.”  The eclectic mixture of folk songs and rock songs only adds to his dissonant countenance.  Although the tracks were recorded over the course of a few years, it’s still jarring to go from the Simon and Garfunkelness of “Speed of Sound” to the mid-tempo rocker “Get Away.”  The amazing “I Got Kinda Lost” turns an archetypical blues riff into a heavier song which gets drenched with Bell’s earnest vocals.  When he sings “I got kinda lost / And what can I say? / Feeling the way I do / I’m trying to get across to you,” its intense emotion provides a sense of profound innocence.

And really, that’s the huge leap apparent on the album — a sense of innocence.  In the liner notes to the album, his brother speaks of his desire to learn about music, “the cosmic electricity” of studio technology and the “influence of Sgt. Pepper” created a student out of this musician.  That’s why I Am the Cosmos is able to do so much; Bell’s musicianship is balanced with his unaffected songwriting demeanor.  It’s a transforming record, opening up to anything.

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6 Responses to “I Am the Cosmos – Chris Bell”

  1. Nicholas Says:

    So a record company tried to cash in on a mans death by releasing his songs 20 years after he died? It doesn’t surprise me that you would support such corporatism.

  2. 1. Chris Bell was never addicted to heroin.
    2. Nicholas, your comment is absurdly uninformed.
    3. I’m glad you enjoy the music as much as I do.

    • Adam, thanks for the comment! I really do love the music, and it’s nice to see someone that does as well! As for the heroin thing, I got my information from Wikipedia, the liner notes for the album, and the great book “The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars,” all of which state or at least hint at his dependency on the drug. Of course, I’ll never *know* for sure if that’s true or not, but at least those are the places where I heard it from.

      • For the sake of clarification, Chris Bell’s brother David said the following:

        “To my knowledge, he never did heroin…”

        (Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop by Rob Jovanovic, page 169)

        I recommend this book as it is (as of the moment) the definitive chronicle of Big Star.

      • I’ll definitely have to read that — other than short research I’ve done on the band, I haven’t read a full bio of Big Star, so that should be extremely interesting! Thanks!

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