Certain Songs #745: The Jayhawks – “Big Star”

Album: The Sound of Lies
Year: 1997

Mark Olson left The Jayhawks after Tomorrow The Green Grass to go work with his wife, Victoria Williams, and — like Peter Holsapple after Chris Stamey left the dBs — Gary Louris decided to carry on with the band under the established brand name.

Working with long-time bassist, Marc Perlman, the songs that Louris came up with for The Sound of Lies are somewhat different than the Americana that dominated their previous records: the guitars are louder, for one thing, and songs like “Sixteen Down” and “Poor Little Fish” have experimental textures to boot.

But the standout track — and one of my favorites that Louris has ever written — is the power-poppy “Big Star,” which starts off with a couple of crunchy guitars bounding off of each other and Louris, backed by keyboardist Karen Grotberg, singing not the tribute you might expect from the title, but rather his worries about his career:

I’m flat-busted
Wild-eyed and free
I couldn’t get arrested if I tried
A has-been at a mere thirty-five

This would be annoying, probably, if it wasn’t so damn melodic and move so confidently into the chorus, which dismisses these worries with a straight-out boast, bracketed by Grotberg’s piano.

But I’m gonna be a big star
I’m gonna be a big star somedayyyyyyyyyy
I’m gonna be a big star
Someday

Of course, this was probably a bit ironic: the real chance for The Jayhawks to become big stars had already passed, and no amount of even subtle mainstreaming of their music was going to make up for that.

You can see that in the video, depicting them as the big stars they were never going to become, no matter how many great songs they wrote.

Official video for “Big Star”

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