Certain Songs #193: Chris Bell – “I Am The Cosmos”

I am the cosmos

Album: I Am The Cosmos.

Year: 1974.

Posthumous releases are a tricky thing. But posthumous releases of an album that was never quite officially finished are even trickier – as we don’t really know what the artist truly wanted – so it was with trepidation that I approached Rkyodisc’s 1992 release of Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos.  For one thing, we don’t even know if he wanted to call it I Am The Cosmos.

But it made sense, of course, as the “I Am The Cosmos” / “You and Your Sister” single was the only music Bell released post-Big Star / pre-car crash. And of course, “I Am The Cosmos” itself is a song that is as rich as anything Bell wrote for Big Star, which is to say as rich as anything in rock history.

Every night I tell myself
“I am the cosmos
I am the wind”
But that don’t get you back again

That’s a helluva way to start a song, especially over a slow, draggy beat, the music itself is grand and majestic – the aural equivalent of the brother-snapped top-of-the-Alps photo that graces the album cover – and as such trumps both the slow tempo and mostly self-pitying lyrics.

Mostly, but not completely, as he’s basically describing the equivalent of an “It’s Complicated” relationship:

Never wanna be alone
I hate to have to take you home
Want you too much to say no, no
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Whatever self-pity the song starts with is undercut by the sly juxtaposition between “no no” and Beatles-referencing  “yeah yeah yeah.” 

Also undercutting it: the long and gorgeous guitar solo (over handclaps!) that splits the song in two and moves it into right into the cosmos, making what Chris Bell tells himself every night totally true.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that “I Am The Cosmos” has moved from being a postscript to the Big Star story to being an integral part of it.  That probably started in 1994, when Jon Auer of the Posies sang it on the reunion tour, but became formalized when several Bell recordings were included on the Big Star box set Keep an Eye on the Sky.

It makes sense: it’s an acknowledgement that I Am The Cosmos was recorded with many of the same people that recorded Big Star’s Third, and both recordings share the same DNA, and had Bell lived, maybe he and Chilton could have recorded together again at some point.

Fan-made video for “I Am The Cosmos”

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