Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Happy 90th Birfday!

To the real King of Rock 'n Roll, Chuck Berry! Whose legacy is of course nothing if not complicated:
Berry, of course, has drawn his share of praise since he emerged in the mid-’50s. He’s topped polls, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” was the only rock song on the Voyager Golden Record sent into space in 1977. “If you were going to give rock ‘n’ roll another name,” John Lennon said, “you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”

Berry has symbolized the past — in “Pulp Fiction,” John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance in a retro joint to “You Never Can Tell” — as well as the future: Essayist Chuck Klosterman recently wrote in his book “But What If We’re Wrong?” that Berry is the one rock figure who could be used to symbolize the whole field to people in distant centuries. 

But despite this and his outliving many of rock’s other pioneers, Berry has been less visible in recent decades. (Klosterman, who is decidely contrarian, may have selected him over the more obvious Beatles, Dylan or Presley for just that reason.) His falling capital may have come partly because he has not treated his legacy terribly well, touring on his old hits during the ’70s and ’80s without a band, so that local backup groups — of extremely varying quality — delivered his music. (Bruce Springsteen, who was part of one of those backing bands in the early ’70s, recalled Berry as not telling his band what he planned to play, responding to a request for a set list with, “Well, we’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.”)

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