If you're like a lot of Flyer readers, you've been wondering about an ad that has appeared on the back cover over the past few months. At first glance, it's the familiar logo of legendary Memphis band Big Star. But upon closer inspection, the lower loop of the "B" is missing. It's caused some chuckles, confused emails, and online speculation. But what is Pig Star?
The short answer, says Jonathan Pekar, is that Pig Star is a band. The longer answer is, well, longer, and more complicated.
"My dad [Ron] and mom [Carol] lived with Alex Chilton. My father created the Big Star logo, and actually made the neon," explains Pekar.
According to legend, Chilton came up with the name when the band stepped outside the original Ardent Studios for a smoke break and saw the sign for a Big Star grocery store across the street.
"It was my dad who said, 'Why don't we do it like this so we don't get sued?'" says Pekar.
Pekar grew up immersed in the punk rock and skateboarding scene that emerged around the Antenna Club in the 1980s. At 14, he joined Distemper, a hardcore band started by future filmmaker Mike McCarthy that became the first band to play an all-ages punk show in Memphis at the Antenna. Pekar then became an actor, getting parts in such Playhouse on the Square productions as Torch Song Trilogy, where he was discovered by a talent scout. He moved to Los Angeles and landed a part as a surfer named Eric on Beverly Hills 90210.
"When I went out there, Memphis was already known as a punk rock town. When I told them I was in Distemper, they took me to the park, put the [Distemper] tape in the boombox, and told me if I couldn't sing along to it, they were going to kick my ass."
Pekar fell into the L.A. comedy scene, and standup proved to be a natural outlet for his manic energy.
"Professional skateboarders would come to my shows because I was a skateboarder comedian who was in a punk band."
He was working promotions for SST Records when he started the band Are You A Cop with Gone drummer Gregory Moore. Then, his life took another abrupt left turn.
"As soon as they painted my name on the legends wall at the Comedy Store, next to Eddie Murphy's, I went to film school."
Following in the footsteps of George Lucas, Pekar got a degree from the University of Southern California's Cinematic Arts program. Then, in perhaps his greatest contribution to the larger culture, he became a producer of the Discovery Channel's Shark Week.
"I'm a skateboarder and punk rocker, but my day job is as an actor, producer, and entertainer," he says.
Pekar returned to Memphis four years ago to open the film division at Ardent Studios.
"Pig Star was not the name of a band at first. I did some commercials for [Central BBQ owner] Craig Blondis, and we wanted to say how connected they were to Memphis. I just covered the bottom of the B and made it Pig Star. [Ardent Studio founder] John Fry thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. And he walks off, and I was like, 'Wow!'"
But his tenure at Ardent would prove to be short and tumultuous, and he left shortly after the death of Fry amid a storm of corporate infighting.
"A Southern person who has nothing good to say doesn't say anything at all," he growls. "I one day will write a book."
Pekar went across town to American Recording Studio where he and drummer Andrew McCarty banged out some songs to release under the name Pig Star. ("...because it's funny," he says.)
Once the bass tracks were laid down, Steve Selvidge, an old friend from the Midtown rock scene, added guitars, and Lucero keyboardist Rick Steff added atmosphere.
"I'm real proud of them," he says of the nine pop punk songs that make up Number 2 Record. "They're fun and they're neat, and I just want them to be entertaining."
Number 2 Record is now available at Goner and Shangri-La Records. Pekar has gathered a Pig Star live ensemble that includes Distemper's George Cole and percussionist Jimmy Crosthwait. He says Pig Star plans on playing regularly in the new year.
"I think everyone in Memphis should be in a band. I mean that sincerely."