"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
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