So Long, Chuck Berry

Chuck BerryThe rock and roll legend Chuck Berry died yesterday at the age of 90. When I a kid, I thought of him as just a great guitarist — certainly the most recognizable and most copied lead guitar player ever. And he was certainly that. But I tend to downplay it now. Sad as it is to say, he is the only lead guitar player who I can play like — basically, I’ve never gotten past the surfer bands of the 1960s, and they didn’t know a thing they didn’t learn from listening to Chuck Berry.

It was only later that I realized that he is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. And I’m not just talking about rock and roll. He is as good as Rodgers and Hart, for example. And I can’t really give a songwriter any greater compliment. There is lots to say about Berry’s life, but I prefer to let the music speak for itself. So let’s listen to a few of his hits.

First there is the classic, and possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever (but not my favorite), “Johnny B Goode”:

Second is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:

Beyond Teen Music

One thing I especially like about Berry’s work is that by and large it isn’t adolescent. That doesn’t take away from it’s fun. But I love the multiple generations of “You Never Can Tell” — rather a more adult take on marriage than The Beach Boys’ anemic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

In “Memphis, Tennessee” he wrote about trying to get in touch with his daughter following a break-up. It’s poignant:

New National Anthem?

As many of you know, I’m not fond of our national anthem. Not only does it have a questionable history, it isn’t a pleasant tune and it brings out the worst in our modern day screechers. But Chuck Berry wrote a song that would make a great national anthem, “Back in the USA.” It is the most patriotic song I know of, and without a hint of jingoism. Maybe it’s time to finally change:

What can I say? Chuck Berry gave more than he took. I guess I’ll just take a hint from Douglas Adams…

So long, and thanks for all the songs, Chuck Berry!

6 thoughts on “So Long, Chuck Berry

  1. It’s just a de facto thing now that baseball stadiums play some damn America song during the seventh-inning stretch, before they play “Take Me Out.” It started after the crazies bombed New York and Washington. In those cities, the song played/sung is “God Bless America.”

    The Twins have used “God Bless America.” They’ve also used the far worse “God Bless The USA.” At least I can get up and go pee when this shit starts; one Yankee fan was busted for peeing disrespectfully: http://www.lawyershop.com/2009/04/23/yankees-fan-arrested-for-7th-inning-stretch-bathroom-break-files-suit

    In the alternate universe where I own a baseball team, I could go with that Chuck Berry song. Or Ray Charles singing the line from “America The Beautiful”; “God mend thine every flaw.” Or just Steve Goodman singing “good morning, America, how are ya?”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJ0JgqoF2W4

    • Wow. I didn’t know about the suit. I’ve been reading about it. It will make for a good article when I get around to it. I’m spending most of this weekend reading and making suggestions for a novel a friend of mine has written. It’s very good, but time consuming.

      I really don’t like hearing “God Bless America” in the 7th inning stretch. Isn’t the idea to have a break in the playing — specifically to go to the bathroom for those who don’t want to miss a minute of play? But of all the songs to use, why a religious song? But the truth is, I don’t like any of the patriotic stuff at sporting events. I feel any kind of coerced patriotism to be foul. What’s more, it is too much like “support the troops” bumper stickers: it don’t mean a thing. Half the people who sing long to “God Bless America” don’t care enough about our republic to even vote.

      • Thing is, most people don’t consider those “God Bless” songs to be religious songs, any more than they’d consider “god bless you” to be a religious response to a sneeze. It’s just the default setting.

        Which is what bugs me the most. Not as an atheist/agnostic; as someone who took religion quite seriously when I was very young. The God I believed in was extremely heavy stuff, not something you’d take for granted like saying “um.”

        If they played Arabic prayer calls during the seventh-inning stretch, or four-hundred-year old Lutheran church hymns, I’d be into listening to that depending on how good the singers were. Given the local history, maybe the Twins should have Dakota/Ojibwe singers offering prayers to their divinities. It’d be a nice admission of our shitty behavior towards those communities, and, invoking-supernatural-beneficence-wise, the Twins need all the help they can get.

        • I could get into that. Maybe a little shamanic help! I fear the Giants will need it starting tomorrow.

          What you point out is the crux of the matter. It is the equating of the Christian God with the country. This is why Christianity in the US is mostly bankrupt.

  2. Bruce Springsteen said the same thing yesterday about Berry’s songwriting. And how many songs has Bruce written, now? So he knows whereof he speaks.

    God, what performing style the young Berry had …

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