The Rock and Roll Trifecta / Thoughts on the Passing of an Asshole, a Pervert, and a Fucking Genius

"Avoid contact with any musician who doesn't know how to play Chuck Berry Music"

 

-Number 3 of Cub Koda's Ten Commandments of Rock and Roll.

 

                   *********************

 

As a person, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was mercurial, penurious, and too often disdainful of his audience and disrespectful of his craft. In the days to come, when biographies will be published, there will be shocking stories of his behavior, many of which have been making the rounds among insiders and hangers-on for years.


But if you took up the Rock and Roll mantle, and allowed it to define you, as many of us did, you will feel a Gibson-sized hole in your heart. He put his mark on us, and we danced.

 

If Ike Turner invented Rock and Roll, and he did, then Chuck Berry was its Henry Ford, refining and honing the process to produce a smooth-running, sweet-looking, purr-to-a-growl street machine.

 

He was Rock and Roll's primary architect, its first poet, and its most influential musician. He seamlessly combined a unique melodic sensibility with primal drive. In his best songs, he distilled decades of American blues, folk, pop, and country music into three-minute landscapes and three-dimensional stories. He was, behind only Louis Armstrong and maybe Frank Sinatra, the most influential musical artist of the twentieth century.

 

The Beatles, the Stones, Springsteen, all stood in awe of his ability to paint a picture, to inspire, to shake butts while the words were being heard.

 

Three days from now, if Chuck wakes up, rises from his casket, and grabs his guitar before ascending skyward, I will not be a bit surprised. I don't believe in gods, but Chuck Berry made me believe in something.

 

And I am probably understating things.

 

If you picked up a guitar to play Rock and Roll, or sang at the top of your lungs, or danced, or even pushed the accelerator down to the floor to match the visceral effect of the song on the radio, you are, as Bob Seger sang with unmatched precision, one of Chuck's children, playing his licks every night.

 

He was ninety, and had been in declining health, so his death shouldn't have been the total kick-in-the-balls it was.

 

But Chuck was a tough and stubborn old bastard, to which Keith Richards could testify, and had just finished his first album of new material in almost four decades. If anyone could beat the Reaper, it would be Chuck Berry.

 

But it wasn't the shock of his death that did, eventually, move me to tears. It was the sheer depth of his artistry, the breadth of his work, and freedom and strength I feel whenever I hear that "Chuck Berry Lick".

 

Because no matter how fucked and twisted things are at the moment, or how much crap life throws in my path, Rock and Roll gives me a voice and puts a foot in my ass.

 

Rock and Roll makes me glad to be alive.

 

I didn't just cry tears of sadness because because Chuck Berry was no more.

 

I cried tears of joy because Chuck Berry was.