I’ve got two or three other posts I’m working on right now, one of them a much more personal remembrance, but this news today has to come first. Dammit.
The passing of Chuck Berry at age 90 isn’t really a surprise; his health had been slowly failing for years. But it is sad to see one of the original Rock & Roll greats leave us. Even though I now concede Elvis Presley’s undeniable talent and status as the King, for many years I argued that Berry was the true King of Rock & Roll. He did so much to create and shape the sound so many of us love so much. He made some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard, and I never get tired of hearing it. His guitar style was iconic. His performances were magnetic and charismatic. Yeah, he was kind of a jerk as a human being (and more than a little problematic for this feminist), but he was a legend. The world is a slightly poorer place without him.
I would’ve posted a clip of Chuck Berry playing this live because he was/is such a dynamic performer (and I adore the duck walk). But I didn’t like the way he changed the phrasing and rhythm live. And I didn’t like that most of the live versions I looked at cut off the opening riff. That opening is one of the finest in rock history.
Berry plays guitar like no one else. I know he doesn’t do anything fancy or special with his guitar. He doesn’t use strings imported from Italy, or pad the insides with wadded up newspaper, or anything even remotely unusual. But he made that instrument sound like no one else ever could. Not the notes or anything. There is just something so distinctive about Berry’s playing. To quote my favorite line from the song, “he could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell.”
Is this song about Chuck Berry’s own experience? Who knows? I know that this is one of the first songs I think of when I think of Rock & Roll. I know that it helped define the genre, helped make it what it is today. I know that to this day it’s one of my favorite songs; I can literally listen to it forever. It would be one of the songs I had on my desert island iPod. (Hey, that’s an interesting twist on the desert island them. Maybe I’ll run with it one of these days.)
Oldies on Monday seems to becoming a theme. Anyone out there have any opinion on whether or not I should keep it up?