Alvin and the Chipmunks: Behind the Music

I stared pensively at the furry rodent in front of me. His eyes silently betrayed years of sorrow, pain, and a losing battle with narcotics. His shirt looked like it hadn't received a clean press in decades -- the signature letter 'A', once bold and defiant, now faded beyond recognition. His tattered hat reeked with the scent of broken dreams. Here was Alvin -- a musical titan fallen from grace. During my days as a brash rookie reporter for Rolling Stone, I had followed Alvin and the Chipmunks since they first scurried into our hearts. My final interview with him would not be an easy one.

I remember when I first met Alvin and his two brothers, Simon and Theodore. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, they were scoring gigs at an underground cabaret in Greenwich Village, working part time as waiters. Scraping to get by, the three brothers scored their big break, and paw in the door, when they met the legendary chipmunk enthusiast known only as 'Dave.'

"Dave," chuckled Alvin, "That man knew music better than anybody. And he knew chipmunks better than anybody. Dave sort of became a surrogate father to me -- my actual father was devoured by a wolf in the Pine Barrens." Impressed by the talent and future potential of the trio, Dave took Alvin, Simon, and Theodore under his management. He gave them clothes, lent them his home, and even sent them to school for an education. He also got them meetings. After demo-reels to Warner, EMI, and RCA, the red-hot, marvelous chipmunk band had record execs nibbling at their feet.

"I remember coming home after practice," Alvin reminisced, "and finding two of the hottest, and I mean hottest, raccoons you've ever seen. Both completely naked. One of them held out a contract from Sony BMG."

Alvin and the Chipmunks first went on tour in the summer of 1959 after their hit single, "Alvin's Harmonica." America was caught in a Chipmunk Frenzy. Fast cars, fast women, the three brothers had everything. Yes, it was a good time to be a rock and roll reporter. It was an even better time to be a musical rodent. Still, the Chipmunks lived a life of dangerous excess.

"Our tour-bus was a twenty-four hour party. We had mouse feeders filled with cocaine." Alvin shook his head. "What can I say, Dave had connections."

Alvin's music defined a generation that soaked in the scandalous, high-pitched rebellious songs like "Witch Doctor," "Babysitter Fright Night," and "Chipmunk Christmas (Don't Be Late)." Mesmerized fans, packed in sold-out concerts, threw anything on stage: bras, phone numbers, even nuts and berries, which the Theodore hid in hollow trees for the upcoming winter.

"Theo was a hoarder. He ate his feelings, and he was a hoarder."

Fame and fortune, however, only added fuel to the burning rodent egos. Launched by the success of their first record, the Chipmunks entered an experimental psychedelic phase with their second album: Magical Chipmunk Love Mystery Sex. While it was some of the most inspired work Alvin and The Chipmunks had ever done, the drugs and decadent lifestyle tore them apart. The three chipmunks, lost in a hazy drug-addled cyclone, slid steadily down a path to self-destruction. Alvin routinely showed up to practice drunk, and it wasn't long before Simon had tested positive for rabies. He had been sharing needles with Chip n' Dale.

Theodore, under-appreciated and alienated, retreated into isolation.

"Theodore, went on a weird spiritual streak," Alvin recalled, "He converted to Kabbalah and wore a bunch of crystals. He insisted Theodore was his 'slave name,' and demanded we call him Neotamias obscurus. Latin taxonomy. God, I miss him so much. You know, sometimes I still see him... right in the room with me."

Two days after the album's release, Theodore's single engine Cessna was found forty miles off the Miami coastline. Officials declared the accident the result of pilot error. Chipmunks cannot fly planes.

"I'll never forget the day I learned Theodore's plane crashed. I was in the kitchen..." I could see Alvin fighting back tears, "I picked up the phone, and a police officer said 'Theodore's plane crashed.'"

Theodore is survived by his fiancé, Yoko Ono.

After Theodore's death, Dave was devastated. His lifelong dream of forming a band of singing animals was unraveling before his eyes. In a last ditch attempt to salvage the group, Dave hired a replacement for Theodore, but Alvin, Simon, and Randy the Weasel just wasn't selling out Jones Beach. Randy the Weasel simply could not reignite the same spark Theodore gave to the group. Also, Randy was a dick.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks was over. We all realized that. It was time to grow up."

And grow up they did. After a long hibernation, Alvin, now six months out of rehab, tutors music and athletics to troubled inner city chipmunk youth. He also wears hearing aids due to years of Dave screaming "ALLLVIN" in his ear. Simon attempted a brief solo career, which quickly fizzled into nothing. He now lives in San Francisco -- two years after a successful gender reassignment surgery -- with his lover Ricardo.

While my days on the road with Alvin and the Chipmunks were filled with danger, cheap hotels, and even cheaper Chipettes, I'll always look back on them with fond nostalgia, a journey of excitement and self-discovery. Alvin, bitter as ever, remains entangled in an ugly lawsuit with Dave: "I still never got that hula-hoop."