October 18, 2016

"Cruisin' and playin' the radio/With no particular place to go... "



And Chuck Berry is still not gone. He's made it to 90, today. Happy Birthday!

Here's Peter Guralnick at Rolling Stone: "Why Chuck Berry Is Even Greater Than You Think/Revelatory encounters with a rock & roll pioneer." Excerpt:
When he was recognized in 2012 by PEN New England (a division of the international writers' organization) for its first "Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence" award, his co-honoree, Leonard Cohen, graciously declared that "all of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry," while Bob Dylan called him "the Shakespeare of rock & roll."...

He is, like many of us, his own best advocate and his own worst enemy, but the particular problem for Chuck is that, for all of the accolades that have come his way... to this day he has not been unambiguously embraced in the full artistic terms he deserves. There are undoubtedly a multiplicity of reasons for this (race would certainly have to be factored in), but the principal reason that Chuck has not been lifted up on a wave of critical and biographical hosannas is Chuck himself. His unwillingness to ingratiate himself. His unreadable apartness. The deep-seated sense of anger and suspicion that can unexpectedly flare up and turn into overt hostility, with or without provocation.... Most of all, I would guess, it comes down to his determined, uncompromisingly defiant refusal to conform to anyone else's expectations but his own.

24 comments:

mockturtle said...

One of the greats!

Skeptical Voter said...

Could you imagine the way I felt, I couldn't unfasten her safety belt. That was never a problem for Billy Jeff Clinton.

Loving me some memories of Chuck Berry and his duck walk. He was as much an original as Jerry Lee Lewis.

AReasonableMan said...

If anyone has ever had ADHD it is Chuck Berry. Half-way through his guitar solo he get's distracted for a while and them picks up where he left off as if nothing happened, all while on live TV. This drove Keith Richards nuts when playing with him live.

Carol said...

I loved Chuck Berry when I was 7 and I love him still at 67. He was prolific, very funny lyrics. I know for a fact that Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues was inspired by Too Much Monkey Business.

Ann Althouse said...

And The Beach Boys "Kokomo" was inspired by "No Particular Place to Go" (with the lyric "So we parked way out on the Kokomo").

David said...

"His unwillingness to ingratiate himself. His unreadable apartness. The deep-seated sense of anger and suspicion that can unexpectedly flare up and turn into overt hostility, with or without provocation.... Most of all, I would guess, it comes down to his determined, uncompromisingly defiant refusal to conform to anyone else's expectations but his own."

Quintessential no bulshit rocker. I would add "lack of pretense." And "courage." Chuck could and did play with any local band on tour. These bands played up to Chuck's level. He never played down to them.

Maybe Dylan could ask Chuck to accept the prize on his behalf. And answer the phone calls.

EMD said...

The 90 year-old is dropping a fresh album soon. His first in 37 years.

David said...

"He was as much an original as Jerry Lee Lewis."

Jerry Lee said he and Chuck once got into a physical fight after an argument about who was the greatest rocker. Jerry Lee also said that Chuck kicked his ass.

Earnest Prole said...

An astoundingly original guitarist and an even more astoundingly original songwriter. A genius is the one most like himself.

John said...

I always liked the story of when chuck was followi g Jerry Lee at a concert. During the last verse of great balls of fire Jerry Lee dumped some gasoline on the piano and set it alight. As he passed chuck walking off the stage he said "Top that, (deleted)"

Supposed to be a true story, I originally heArd it in the 60s. A toned down versio is in the movie American hot wax.

John Henry

John said...

Perhaps what crooked hilary had on 911 was the rocking pneumonia.

That would explain the fast recovery. All she needed was a shot of rhythm and blues.

Rock on, Chuck. We owe you big time. If there were any justice you'd be getting the Nobel instead of that other guy.


John Henry

traditionalguy said...

Back beat Chuck out played them all.

FullMoon said...

Saw him backed by Steve Miller band ,in SF. Did his job, then left.

Unknown said...

And "Surfin' USA" is "Sweet Little Sixteen" with new lyrics. Of course it wasn't the first redo of that song, but it was the one Berry took to court. Oh, and "Fun, Fun, Fun" is the best Chuck Berry riff not by Chuck Berry.

Of course one problem with Berry is the legal issues, not just the trumped up thing that sent him to jail, but real "I'm a bad person" type stuff. Oh, and the fact that his piano player probably wrote the music. (I don't think anyone disputes the lyrics though).

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I genuinely do not understand the rules.
It is ok to celebrate Chuck Berry?

Chuck Berry went to prison for neartly two years for Mann Act violations--he took a 14 year old girl across state lines and if I remember correctly he has admitted having sex with her.
Chuck Berry put toilet cameras in a restaurant he owned in Missouri (in the late 80s I think) and taped dozens of women without their knowledge or consent--almost certainly including minors. He was sued by a group of women and settled out of court for over $1M.

Now I thought the new rule was that any man who commits any kind of sexual transgression, misogynist act, etc, was supposed to be cast out for good (Bill Cosby). I know that rule does not apply to Bill Clinton, but why does Chuck Berry also get a pass??

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I should add, of course, that Chuck Berry is a terrific artist and anyone who loves rock & roll owes him quite a lot of thanks.

But seriously, what are the rules for when "rapey" behavior in one's past can be overlooked and when it mustn't be?

Unknown said...

Well, Berry never said anything about grabbing women by the pussy, just did it, so he's good..

William said...

I wouldn't have bet on him living to ninety. Perhaps his outlandish vices precluded participation in drugs and alcohol. Watching women go to the bathroom is a form of safe sex. Clean living in a perverse way......He was a talented and influential artist. Would you rank him higher than Phil Spector in the hierarchy of American musical greats?

Unknown said...

Spector? Because he's a reprobate too? Though of course, Berry is not a murderer.

But sure, way more important that Spector. No Berry, no rock-and-roll as we know it.

John Christopher said...

I am a Chuck Berry fan, and very aware of his weird flaws.

He is part of a vanishing breed: the unabashed showbiz "pay me" cornball. I like it.


Bob said...

In the 70's they were trashing Berry as a white man's tool. He music bridged racial lines. I guess, the times, they are a-changing.

Bill Peschel said...

I can separate Berry's behavior from Berry's music quite easily. One doesn't infringe on the other.

And my job as a 56-year-old white man is not to explain or excuse the actions of a (now) 90-year-old black man.

I only dropped in to mention this:

"Most of all, I would guess, it comes down to his determined, uncompromisingly defiant refusal to conform to anyone else's expectations but his own."

Doesn't that sound like Dylan?

And I'll second the commenter's idea above: Bob should send Chuck to Oslo and pick up the award.

Curious George said...

He was duck walking in his 70's.

William said...

In the years when Chuck Berry was a thing, I liked his music but never paid that much attention to it in the sense that I never bought a Chuck Berry album. I did have a number of Joan Baez albums. however. I had good taste, but my good taste has not been vindicated by posterity. Berry was definitely the more innovative and influential performer and musician.....He had his personal vices, but it must be noted that no one ever died on a collective farm as a result of his music.