Chris Bell was originally a member of Memphis cult heroes Big Star releasing #1 Record in 1972. It was an album packed full of classic songs with Alex Chilton and Bell contributing to each others compositions in much the same way as Lennon and McCartney did. The result was gems such as Feel, Thirteen and The Ballad Of El Goodo but as well as that there were ecstatic guitar tones making a noticeable sonic difference, setting the album apart and turning it into a timeless classic. But this is not about Big Star or Stax or what went wrong, it’s about Chris Bell’s 1978 single release on Car Records. (Incidentally, started by Chris Stamey from Chapel Hill Power Pop band The dB’s)
I Am The Cosmos is inspired despair, trying to piece it all back together with the fabric of the universe itself as your inspiration, searching for divine light to repair the pain, but it’s mostly utter confusion, not actually knowing if he can live with or without the trauma – emotional confusion succinctly put is a difficult art.
In You And Your Sister mistrust is foiling his yearnings, but like I Am The Cosmos the melody is so perfect and intoxicating his heartfelt words are just icing on the cake for his beautiful melodies and timeless songs.
Both songs were covered in unique versions with varying success by English mood maker collective This Mortal Coil – You And Your Sister by Kim Deal from The Pixies and The Breeders and Tanya Donnelly from Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly. I Am The Cosmos sung by lesser known Dominic Appleton from English band Breathless in a duet with singer Deirdre Rutkowski. Both songs appeared on the third and final This Mortal Coil album, Blood in 1991 under the direction of arty record label 4AD’s guiding light, Ivo Watts-Russell.
From what I’ve read Bell suffered from depression had some drug issues and found God. He left Big Star after the first album and lost his life in a car crash in 1978, the same year this single was released. There was also a posthumous album called I Am The Cosmos released by Rykodisc in 1992. (Big Star’s Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel both died within 2 months of each other in 2010).
Ultimately Chris Bell’s legacy is the inspired music that he and his collaborators left behind – gone forever but never forgotten.