"Hail! Hail! Rock N Roll," Not "Hail To The Chief," Is America. Chuck Rolls Over, But His Legacy Is A Reminder Of That What Makes Us Great Is Our People & Its Music, Not Our Politicians.

Where would we be without Chuck Berry?

Rock N Roll literally changed my life, if I can go far as to say so. Maybe that's too strong, because I was only a very young one when I first heard it. Fact is, I've never known life without it; it was always there by the time I became aware of most anything. And as a young boy I was completely mesmerized by that sound of liberation, joy and festivity. One of my shortcomings may be that for many years I'd chosen to see much of my life's experiences through the prism of rock n roll. Well, the guy can't help it. That soundtrack still underpins most everything I do and believe, to some extent.

But today as Chuck passed on, I'm thinking of the early black pioneers of R&R, of whom Chuck was a central figure. And how they dealt with so much racism, bigotry and all manner of ugliness, from a mainstream white society who felt deeply threatened by their confident and playful music. Their antecedents in blues and jazz had it even worse. We should remember that as the current day's media will invariably be falling over each other to lavish praise on these men.

So right now, I'd prefer to dwell for a moment on their impact on the world, as a distinctly American form of art.

You hear it all the time: most of the population of the world are discerning enough to be able to despise our government and their phony interpretation of freedom and liberty, but not its people. That's because while our government has blasted holes in their cities, maimed and killed its citizens and ripped off its municipalities, American artists have produced a canon of music and art beloved by the rest of the world. It's arguable, but I say Rock N Roll is our greatest export. And when it gets down to it, these artists par excellence are our greatest emissaries, proxies and ambassadors. Just ask people around the world.

Here, I would like to interject some Vonnegut, who always got things right, in matters that matter:

No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn't be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out.

That war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today's war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.

And how come the people in countries we invade can't fight like ladies and gentlemen, in uniform and with tanks and helicopter gunships?

Back to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it. Even military bands, although I am a pacifist, always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that, but the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues. All pop music today -­ jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on - ­ is derived from the blues.

A gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow, Poland.

The wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this country ­ an atrocity from which we can never fully recover ­ the suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the suicide rate among slaves.

Murray says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing with depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old Man Suicide by playing and singing the Blues. He says something else which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can't drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it's being played. So please remember that.

Foreigners love us for our jazz. And they don't hate us for our purported liberty and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance.

How much different of a world it might be, if, instead of dropping bombs on 3rd world nations, and bankers coming in and making purposely bad, predatory deals with their corrupt politicians, and setting up sweatshops in their countryside in order to supply beaten-down debt slaves in working class America with the illusion of freedom through consumerism and the purchase of an endless supply of cheap and disposable goods made by slaves in SE Asia, we would help build schools, deliver food, and send our best bands to the farthest, most oppressed places on the globe.

It's my fervent belief that America should, at once, tear down every last military statue from every single town and city square across the land, and replace them one by one, with statues of Chuck, Little Richard, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, James Brown, et al (just for a quick start), who are much more worthy subjects as having brought such joy to the world through their high artistry, rather than the offensive symbols of propaganda for pig-headed imperialism that has resulted in the blowback we're still receiving, because of the hordes of pissed-off subjugated people we've created.

Stop desecrating our public commons with tributes to war, fear and bullshit like honorable deaths.

Start honoring the things that make it worthwhile to live:

Way down South they gave a jubilee
Them country folks they had a jamboree
They're drinkin' home - brew from a wooden cup
The folks dancin' got all shook up
And started playin' that rock'n'roll music
Any old way you choose it
It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it
Any old time you use it
It's gotta be rock - roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me

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Comments

of Rock and Roll, I heard or read somewhere that John Lennon once said if Rock and Roll were to be called something else he said it would be called Chuck Berry.

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Mark from Queens's picture

@pro left

Isn't it way past time that we start honoring these cultural giants, commensurate to their impact on society, culture and the world's view of Americans?

It's always to my chagrin when traveling overseas and seeing worthy and deserving monuments, town squares and stadiums all over Europe dedicated to their poets, artists, sculptors, inventors, scientists and musicians, to have to come back here and see all this insufferable, gag-inducing corporate naming of every little surface in this country.

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(thirty three and a third at TOP)

"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

@Mark from Queens and usually when any credit is given its to the wrong people namely the record companies, managers and even the wrong artists.

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Nearlynecessary's picture

The entire essay is great, however, those last two sentences are spot on!

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janis b's picture

I’ve never grasped how so many white people (especially Americans) fail to recognise the glory of black culture, in spirit and soul. The world would certainly be a happier place if more identified with the culture's immeasurable gifts to the vitality of life - thoroughly manifested in the life long contribution of Chuck Berry. RIP.

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Mark from Queens's picture

@janis b

Thanks janis.

The vigor and dexterity of those dancers is incredible. It's a whole other level up in that regard from the jazz dancing in the generation before. At its heart R&R represents vitality, youthfulness and unbridled joy, so evident in that clip and its resonance today.

The Beatles too spoke of how aghast they were to come here and see the way black people were treated, when they had such reverence for them as the great and unique music makers who influenced them most. On top of which, there was a shred of self-consciousness in their astonishment at all the accolades thrust on them upon their arrival here, when they modestly said they were only re-interpreting all the great black music they worshipped and analyzed, of which of course formed the foundation for the world-changing evolution of pop music they would stamp the 60's with.

For years now, McCartney at his concerts has introduced "Blackbird" as being the English slang name for a black woman, and said he wrote it as an ode to the Civil Rights movement. Have a listen to Lennon's interpretation of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me" as just one of many examples of how deeply he revered black American artists.

Just imagine this country, or the world for that matter, without the rich cultural contributions of African-Americans. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. America has in so many utterly profound ways indebted deeply to black culture for its identity and truest and best colors, Rock N Roll being among the foremost. I like the idea of forcing racist white people to come to terms with honoring black contributions to their personal lives, by forcing them to imagine a world without Rock N Roll.

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2 users have voted.

(thirty three and a third at TOP)

"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

janis b's picture

@Mark from Queens

from great music.

I like the idea of forcing racist white people to come to terms with honoring black contributions to their personal lives, by forcing them to imagine a world without Rock N Roll.

It might do wonders, if they can remove their earphones of the incessant stream of other lyrics they listen to.

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Big Al's picture

(73) my sister went to Europe so I commandeered her car, a 69 VW bug, put a pioneer supertuner (8 track) in it with large speakers and the first 8 track I got was Chuck Berry's greatest hits (or at least it seemed). Sometimes we'd get 5-6 of us crammed in there with Chuck Berry, Mr. Chuck Berry, blasting like "an old steam shovel". What good times.
RIP Chuck Berry.

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Mark from Queens's picture

@Big Al

Packed into the car, cranking Chuck on a new Pioneer system - that classic scene is left wanting for a couple of more details....heh.

As far as my cultural touchstones go, songs like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Tutti Fruitti" are mixed right in there with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frere Jacques." They feel just as much as childhood building-block songs to me.

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(thirty three and a third at TOP)

"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

Amanda Matthews's picture

out about this man and what I remember of him from when I was young, but I just dumped it. It just made me so sad. I remember the first time I saw Chuck Berry when I was a little kid. Everyday, when we got home from school the first thing we'd hear walking in the door (if we we on time) was "Live, from Philadelphia, it's American Bandstand..." One glorious day it was Chuck Berry who was the guest and this is what I saw.

It was my Mom that 'exposed' me to that eeeeeevil Devil's Music (per her own mother). It's Mom who turned me into a Rock 'N Roll fan.

Thanks Mom! And Thank You For Everything Mr. Berry.

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I'm tired of this back-slapping "Isn't humanity neat?" bullshit. We're a virus with shoes, okay? That's all we are. - Bill Hicks

Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. - Frank Zappa

eyo's picture

But when I actually saw him do it one day in '73, it made my eyes pop out. I thought he was "old" then, omg that is how dumb youth is (talking about me). Such focused raw talent, and he got attention for a silly walk. Don't say great amerika. Thanks Chuck Berry. I'm glad he lived long. Chuck Berry duck walk

I also remember him pushing the envelope outside of rock, everything is connected. Thanks for this essay, Mark.

Peace & Love

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On a blog.

janis b's picture

@eyo

... it made my eyes pop out.

Thank you!

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eyo's picture

@janis b hi there, when I say "shred" I mean he was ripping a guitar solo so sharp it cut everything within proximity to pieces, that's how it good it seemed. I never saw anything like it before. So lucky.

Later days, on the floor of Winterland I was close enough to feel Townsends' windmill strum and got looked right in the eyes by crazy "Moony" direct stare, arms a blur. I hardly remember Daltry at all, but that is when I started crushing on John Entwistle big time. Couldn't hear for three days after that concert. All those guys admired Chuck Berry, that is the thing. He was right there with The Grateful Dead at Winterland in the 60s.

Peace & Love

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On a blog.

janis b's picture

@eyo

but am really happy that you interpreted it for me with that great experience. It sounds like it's still very present and full of feeling. What good fortune that Chuck Berry's life and work graced many of us with special memories and inspiration. Cheers, eyo.

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Mark from Queens's picture

@eyo

In many ways that cultural impact just keeps growing, right up through today.

Besides the obvious impact on the way guitar players played and moved, think about the cultural phenomenons of air guitar, video games like Guitar Hero and the market for guitar collecting (which makes me sick).

But when we look over the decades and can conjure up images of the different ways guitar players move, one has to pay great homage to the original.

Will never forget a story told to me by a guy who was one of three in a family near where I grew up who were local, prodigy rock musicians (while he was revered as a bluesy, hard rock player of renown, it was his brother who became an internationally known world-class rock drummer, playing with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, etc). Their father's devotion to cultivating and grooming his children to follow their dreams was a big factor in each of their development.

We went to see Page & Plant together in the 90's and he relayed a story about seeing Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin, one of his biggest influences (and my all-time favorite band outside of the Beatles, so I was keenly interested). Told us of how he must have been about 10 or 11 years old, when his father took him in to NYC to see Zeppelin at the Fillmore East and had his mind blown.

He said the single thing he remembers most of all about that experience, was the way Jimmy Page moved with his guitar, around and across the stage. It was so intriguing for me to hear. That for this excellent guitar player in his own right, the biggest takeaway for his young impressionable mind was how vividly he remembers the way Page actually danced with it as he played.

No doubt that that was heavily inspired by Chuck.

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(thirty three and a third at TOP)

"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

janis b's picture

@Mark from Queens

I'm glad that you as a musician and artist have paid tribute to Chuck Berry.

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Alligator Ed's picture

Chuck was the master--the Beethoven of rock and Roll. Now they've both rolled over. I came of age during an idealistic era when we thought that Rick and Roll could save the world. I still do.

Another great bluesman, Muddy Waters was fully in tune with the new genre he helped create:

I haven't given up on the old dreams:

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mimi's picture

I love as much as Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters (which I was introduced to only here by Joe's EB).
These grandmas love that music too and I have seen my mother in law, being a grandma to so many children I don't know how to count, starting to sing and hum and dance and having given their simple advices to so many. They and the music can pull any woman out of depression. Thank God.

American music is the equivalent to "Friendship Benches" in my mind.

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"History is what the present chooses to remember" - Carl Becker

janis b's picture

@mimi

Friendship Benches.

From my brief research, it appears that outside of Zimbabwe, the concept has only been adopted in Canada. What a shame, as life around the world could grow stronger from such valuable support.

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mimi's picture

@janis b @janis b
thinking about how people of all walks of life, ethnicities and nations come together to listen to the same music and be all full of willingness to think of the next fellow on the bench as their friends, at least for a little while. Gives hope and makes you happy, no? We all need it.

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"History is what the present chooses to remember" - Carl Becker

janis b's picture

@mimi

we'll share a bench together ; ).

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eyo's picture

I really enjoyed this guy's story, hope others do too.: My Amps' Date With Chuck Berry

“Shit the bed, Fred!” I thought to myself. “This old bastard is going to blow out my entire original cone JBLs!” My face flushed. At least we had taken the Gremlin wireless out of the equation.

Did I mention I LOVE the electric guitar? Why yes I do. Thanks Chuck Berry.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guitar_showmanship

Peace & Love

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On a blog.

I hope he enjoyed it!

Some of his greatest hits

Supposedly, MarkfromQueens, rock 'n roll does change lives--and save them.

[Verse 1]
Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothing happening at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was a nothin' goin' down at all, not at all
Then one fine mornin' she puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started shakin' to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll

[Pre-Chorus 1]
Despite all the amputations
You know you could just go out
And dance to a rock 'n' roll station

[Chorus]
It was alright
It was allright
Hey baby, You know it was allright

[Verse 2]
Jenny said
When she was just about five years old
You know why parents gonna be the death of us all
Two TV sets and two Cadillac cars -
Well you know, it ain't gonna help
Me at all (not just a tiny bit)
Then one fine mornin'
She turns on a New York station
She doesn't believe
What she hears at all
Ooh, She started dancin'
To that fine fine music
You know her life
Is saved by rock 'n' roll

[Pre-Chorus 2]
Despite all the computations
You could just dance
To that rock 'n' roll station

[Chorus]
And baby it was alrigt
And it was alright
Hey it was alright
Hey here she comes now!
Jump! Jump!

[Verse 1]
Jenny said when she was just about five years old
Hey, you know, there was nothing happening at all, not at all
Every time I put on the radio
You know there's nothin' goin' down at all, not at all
Then one fine mornin' she hears a New York station
She just didn't believe what she heard at all, hey, not at all
She started dancin' to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll, yes rock 'n' roll

[Pre-Chorus 2]
Despite all the computation
You know you could just dance
To a rock 'n' roll station

[Outro]
All right, all right
And it was alright
Well, listen to me now
And it was alright
Come on, man, listen [?]
It was alright
It was alright
And It was alright
Alright!
It's alright
Alright!
Yeah, it's alright now
Alright!
Yeah, it's alright now
Alright!
It is all alright
Alright!
Yeah, alright now
Alright!
And it's alright right now
Alright!
And it's alright now
Alright!
Oh baby
Alright!
Oh baby
Alright!
Oh baby
Alright!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Alright!
Now it's alright now
Alright!
Ooh, it's alright now
Alright!
Oh, alright
Alright!
Alright now
Alright!

And, since it actually is, after all, Sunday morning, what the heck?

As for

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janis b's picture

@HenryAWallace

I might add this to my daily listening list ; ).

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@janis b

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janis b's picture

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Azazello's picture

and he freely admits it. If you haven't seen the movie Hail! Hail! Rock n' Roll it's worth a look.

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Arrow's picture

You must be playing with you're own ding-a-ling.

RIP Chuck...we'll remember the happy moments.

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Reality is leftist. Naked aggressive capitalism can’t fix the world it broke. - Umair Haque

https://medium.com/bad-words/reality-is-leftist-1399401fd93c

orlbucfan's picture

was Peter Tosh's (Reggae Mystic Man) Johnny B. Goode. Geez, then you have Johnny Rivers doing Memphis. The list goes on. RIP Mr. Berry!! Rec'd!!

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Some yahoos make me want to change species!

janis b's picture

@orlbucfan

Thank you.

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