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CHUCK BERRY: THE 1st POET OF ROCK

CHUCK BERRY:  THE 1st POET OF ROCK by Alan L. Chrisman

Chuck Berry has passed away at age 90.  Berry, was arguably, the most influential rock and roll founder, both musically and lyrically.  Berry could be called rock ‘n’ roll’s father. As John Lennon said when introducing him on the Mike Douglas TV Show in the 70’s ,” My hero, if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’”.  Before Bob Dylan and Lennon/McCartney, Berry, was perhaps its first rock poet. Dylan called Chuck Berry, “the Shakespeare of rock.” Berry would influence EVERYONE-The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Beach Boys, Springsteen, and most rockers to follow. Springsteen’s tribute,” Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Elvis is called the King of Rock ’n ’Roll and was its most important 50’s popularizer, had a great interpretive voice and charisma , but he didn’t write his own songs.  Other early 50’s founders, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly (from whom The Beatles would take their name and would set the standard for the future- guitars, bass, drums line-up), all wrote their own songs. But Berry wrote complete musical stories.  And he played his own lead guitar (from which Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards, would copy his style), before Hendrix would make the guitar and its solos forefront in rock bands. Richard and Lewis jumped on their pianos, and Berry would “duck walk “across the stage visually, before MTV and videos, and before Hendrix burned his guitar theatrically.

Berry had a string of hits in the mid- late 50’s, which perfectly captured a teenager’s life and preoccupations, girls, cars, music (“Sweet Little Sixteen”, “School Days”, “Rock ’n’ Roll Music”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Maybelline”, “Memphis, Tenn.”). Every young aspiring guitar player had to learn his “Johnny B. Goode.” Berry composed little vignettes, 2-3 minute poems set to music (check out the lyrics to his songs like,   “Promised Land”, “You Never Can Tell ( C’est La Vie”).

Berry had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood in St. Louis, (half-way between The South and The North),so maybe that’s why, although black, he understood white middle-class kids, who were the main radio audience in those early days of rock ’n’ roll.  His father was a contractor and a Baptist church deacon; his mother a school principal.  Berry’s influences were mainly black musicians like guitarist, T-Bone Walker. But it wasn’t until he moved north to Chicago and recorded along with other black musicians that were there too, like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley at Chess Records, that he had his first hits. Like Elvis, it was in this combination of both black and white musical influences, blues, country, rock ’n’ roll, that he found his sound. Berry’s distinctive guitar riffs were also influenced by his long time piano player, Johnny Johnson’s, jazz and swing notes as well. It was this synthesis of styles that enabled him to appeal to a cross-section of listeners.

But by the early 60’s, along with most of the early founders, he and they were no longer as popular and, one by one, for sometimes racial reasons, they disappeared from the scene.  Radio was taken over by the more watered-down mainly white pop performers (or “Bobby-Bobbys” as J. L. Lewis called them). Dylan: “I was still an aspiring rock n roller. The descendant, if you will, of the first generation of guys who played rock ’n’ roll — who were thrown down. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis. They played this type of music that was black and white. Extremely incendiary. Your clothes could catch fire. When I first heard Chuck Berry, I didn’t consider that he was black. I thought he was a hillbilly. Little did I know, he was a great poet, too. And there must have been some elitist power that had to get rid of all these guys, to strike down rock ’n’ roll for what it was and what it represented — not least of all being a black-and-white thing.” Berry was accused of transporting a below-age waitress across state lines for sexual purposes under the Mann Act and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

His career seemed almost over, but when he was released in late ’63, The Beatles Invasion was just starting to happen and he had been a big influence on many Liverpool groups and other British bands like the Stones. The Beatles were to record his “Rock and Roll Music” on their 2nd. album and  the first Stones U.K. single was a cover of his “ Come On” and “Carol” was on their 1st American album. Ironically, it was foreign groups who re-focused attention on Berry and other American early 50’s rockers and he gained a whole new respect for his song writing and playing .  One of the Beach Boys’ early hits, Surfin’ U.S.A., was actually Brian Wilson putting surf lyrics over Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” music.  The Beatles and Stones would continue to be influenced by him in their own songs and performing. McCartney would partly pattern his “Back in The U.S.S. R.” after Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” and Lennon would even “borrow” some words and melodies for Come Together from Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” (which Lennon would later have to settle a lawsuit for with its publisher). Keith Richards organized a tribute concert/film for Berry called Hail Hail Rock and Roll in 1986 with Berry, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Cray, and Etta James. Berry would over the years come to his shows with only his guitar (refusing to play, until payment was already deposited into his bank account), not even rehearsing with the local back-up band, or telling them what key he was playing . Richards, amusingly, tells the story how Berry hit him for daring to even touch his hero’s guitar. But I guess geniuses are allowed these little personal foibles.

I remember seeing him in the film, American Hot Wax, which told the story of Rock ’n’ Roll’s first DJ , Alan Freed, in which Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and other early rockers, recreated their original stage performances. It was shown along with Saturday Night Fever, which was the disco rage at the time in the early 70’s.  American Hot Wax was shown first and while getting popcorn at break, I overheard these young John Travota fans marvelling at this guy “duck walking” across the stage. I thought that was interesting and it gave me hope for the timelessness of Berry and his music.

Berry is now recognized as one of the most important song writers and musical influencers in the whole history of rock. He was one of the first to be inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in at its opening in 1986. His “Johnny B. Goode” was ranked #1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” in 2007.

Pop writer Chuck Klosterman has predicted that Berry will be remembered, even 300 years from now, as the perfect embodiment of rock music. In 1986, “Johnny B. Goode” was chosen by NASA to be sent into outer space for its Voyager space probe. So maybe even other life forms will know Berry’s music one day. There was only one Chuck Berry, Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll!

 

Below, from Keith Richards -organized Tribute 1986 concert/film for Chuck Berry with Julian Lennon, etc.

https://youtu.be/5YcPtitpLkk

Below, from film, American Hot Wax, story of Rock ‘n’  Roll DJ. Alan Freed, Berry re-creating his “Reelin’ and Rockin’/ Roll Over Beethoven.”

https://youtu.be/IGY5bvNK_8Y

 

The Beatles were made up of 4 separate personalities which people could relate diffently

POP MUSIC and POP IDOLS: WHAT THEY TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES

POP MUSIC and POP IDOLS:  WHAT THEY TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES

By Alan Chrisman (All Articles ARE written BY ALAN CHRISMAN), copyright 2012-2015 (A Praveen Patel has tried to hack them and claim them.)

I’ve always been fascinated why people liked certain kinds of music and artists and if that said anything about them and us.

I began to believe it could tell us something about ourselves. I also observed how our preference for certain musicians and pop artists and their creations often reflected our own views and how we saw ourselves.  Humans are very social animals and we evolved to mainly be accepted by others-like us.  In fact, the growth and our current constant access to media, has only accelerated this and the obsession with pop celebrities and celebrity culture. There has always been celebrity worship, but we now live in an essentially secular culture, which has basically replaced many of our traditional institutions like religion and the nuclear family.  We now find our communities and “friends” through often less personal connections.

I have some practical everyday knowledge in this area because I ran record stores for several years.  One of the things I would do when people came into my store for the first time, was ask them what kind of music they liked.  Many would say, “Oh, I like everything.” Then I would say, ”Well then, who’s your favorite artist?”  Again, they would often, at first, say, “I don’t have any.” Now I knew that wasn’t probably true, having as I said, run stores for a long time, and it didn’t help me direct them towards the section they were most likely to purchase from.

So I knew I’d have to probe further if I was to help guide them to the right area. Then I’d say, “Do you like rap (or disco or country)”. I had learned a lot of people didn’t, especially, like those genres.  And they would often say, “No, I don’t like them.”  But it was really to get them to open up a little more.  And often, after a couple minutes of thinking about it, they might say, “Well, I kind of like the blues and the 60’s”, for example.  At least now I had a starting point. Then they might say,“ Actually, I like Eric Clapton.”  I could then direct them to that section.  But if they liked Eric Clapton, they often already had most things by him, so I might suggest something similar-guitar-driven, blues-based, maybe not so well-known, but somewhat alike, because I was always trying to expose people to new music. Fortunately, my stores were second hand and I could play them for them.  Some of these first time visitors would then become regulars and I got to know what they liked for the future.  The other thing is after doing this for several years, I could often even guess what people might chose, just based on my own experience, how they were dressed, etc., so that it almost became “instinctive”, without even thinking about it.  In fact, I’d often play a little game with myself to see if I could guess what they’d like.  Some probably (maybe 80-90%), I could figure out this way.  But there was the small minority which I didn’t guess “right.” These were the ones I most enjoyed because they intrigued me.

It wasn’t exactly a scientific study, but over the many of years of doing it, I must have seen perhaps hundreds of people anyway, maybe thousands. What this showed me, is that first of all, people like to think of themselves as “open” to everything, but actually most of us have certain tastes and preferences, whether we consciously realized it or not.  And a lot more than most people liked to admit, we could be fit somewhat into “types.”

Interestingly, we now live in a social media and internet age, where our interactions are determined by our “likes” and the similar communities and groups we join and mainly follow.  If, anything, our interactions have become even more “narrow” than ever. These new mediums were supposed to open us up to a wider variety and world.  But have they really?   None of us like to be reduced down to a stereotype, but we live in a society now where that is precisely what has happened. Our “likes” and preferences are being collected, along with the sites we visit, by search engines to create a profile on us to later sell to commercial companies (and governments too) to reach our particular interests and demographic to market and sell us products.

Then I began to wonder if there were certain personalities who were attracted to certain kinds of pop music and culture and musical idols?

Again, I learned that a lot of this was probably mainly sub-conscious. For many people just knew they liked something, without perhaps examining why.  And besides these likes and dislikes were probably mainly emotional rather than intellectual, since music and movies are largely emotional, aural and visual experiences.

My store specialized in vinyl and especially The Beatles, as it was named after them, although I carried a variety of styles and formats-from pop to jazz to folk to country to blues to classical, etc.  But I met a lot of Beatles’ fans (and also organized Beatles Conventions) over the years.  I noticed that certain people liked especially one Beatle member often more than another.  Because the Beatles were made up of four different, often distinct  personalities and, in general, wrote and played different kinds of songs, stereotypes again, but somewhat true, I could ask and observe which kind of customers and fans seemed to like each Beatle the most.

Paul was the “cute” romantic, and mainly wrote melodic songs like “Michelle”, “Yesterday”, ”Let It Be”, etc.  George was considered the more spiritual, and introspective with songs like “My Sweet Lord” and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, etc.  John tended to write songs more questioning, political and edgy like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “I Am The Walrus”, etc.  Ringo, considered the down-to-earth “everyman”, didn’t write many songs with the Beatles and tended to like covers of more traditional songs and country like “Act Naturally” or the Beatles’ children’s song, “Yellow Submarine.” In fact, some have argued that that’s partly why they appealed to such a broad section of the society and were able to make such a variety of music styles.   When they were in The Beatles, they sometimes wrote songs together (Lennon & McCartney’s early songs especially), but by the time they split up, each, with a few exceptions, carried on in these particular veins primarily. So was it possible that certain kinds of people and personalities related most and tended to like one over the other? By observing The Beatles as a microcosm, together and solo and their followers, perhaps, this could be examined and certain “conclusions” could be reached.

Also this could also be extended to other kinds of music and groups as well, from harder rock and punk on one side to softer forms like folk, jazz and classical on the other.

Somebody said once there is no accounting for tastes.  But my observations taught me that there were, in fact, accountings for tastes.  Again, many of us might not be consciously aware of them, but they were there. And they could be somewhat predicted. Another interesting observation I made, was that there were, In general, gender differences too.  Women tended to like different kinds of music than men. The fact, up until the 70’s or 80’s, rock n’ roll was mainly created by males and reflected their points of view.  But as society became more open to females, there also began to be a change in rock as gradually more female musicians began to be heard. And younger generations began to support that difference more.  But still from the experience in my stores all the way into the early 2000’s, it was primarily males who came in to buy records.

I noticed, in general again, women tended to prefer the softer kinds of music, like folk, jazz and classical. This began to change over time, as I said, with exposure to more female songwriters and performers and with younger generations. Women sometimes sought out female artists whom they felt more spoke for them.  But overall, as some writers have maintained*, women still often looked at pop music and pop idols in somewhat different ways. Guys tended to collect records and to try and copy their favorite musicians and learn to play guitar while girls from the Beatles’ female teen-age fans screaming on, seemed to collect pictures to put up on their walls and to worship their pop idols more as “boy” bands (and interestingly still basically saw them that way into their older ages even). Of course, there were exceptions with females, especially those who were musicians, and whom learned instruments too.  But as we’ve now know scientifically, despite what was said sometimes in the 70’s, men and women are different and in fact, have different brains and their views on many things and pop culture reflects this (as well as because of the way boys and girls are still primarily raised differently).

* “Let’s Talk About Love, 2013 book by Carl Wilson and other essayists about tastes in pop music

These observations and statements of mine about pop culture and pop music, I understand, may not necessarily be shared by some people. They are, as I say, only generalizations, based on my own personal experience and encounters with many music fans and admirers over several years with a fair variety of people. I realize most people probably don’t even think about these things as intellectually as this, but instead just like or not like something and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But as one of my favorite pop culture writers, Chuck Klosterman, says,“nothing is ever only “in and of itself.”  

By doing so, I hope to at least raise some of these questions as to why we like certain kinds of music and follow certain pop figures. And perhaps, this can help us see the often deep effect they have on us and even what this can tell us about ourselves too.

* Carl Wilson’s, Let’s Talk About Love: Journey to the End Of Taste (2007) & Chuck Klosterman’s 2013 book, I Wear The Black Hat.

Below “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs”, Chuck Klosterman’s classic 2003 examination of pop music and pop culture:

sex, drugs and rock and roll cover

VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER

CANADA LOSES ITS INNOCENCE: But A Crazy Violent Act Shouldn’t Discourage us

NO GUNS ALLOWED

NO GUNS ALLOWED

Canadian Parliament PEACE Tower, to commemerate

Canadian Parliament, PEACE TOWER, to commemorate The War which was supposed to “END ALL WARS”  Do wars ever end Wars?

CANADA LOSES ITS INNOCENCE, BUT SHOULDN’T OVER-REACT

By Alan Chrisman (All Articles ARE written BY ALAN CHRISMAN), copyright 2012-2015 (A Praveen Patel has tried to hack them and claim them).

I’m writing this from Ottawa, Canada’s capitol, a couple days after a shooter killed a soldier next to a war memorial and then attacked the Canadian Parliament buildings. Many have said this is when Canada has lost its innocence.

I don’t often write about politics (although I sometimes comment about social effects), preferring to try and change things through music and art. Understandably, Canadians are still in shock and upset.  And as when it happened in the U.S. with 9/11, people are reacting emotionally, waving flags, and calling for more security and surveillance.  And like then, there will be politicians waiting to exploit this upset.

But as, perhaps in the Ebola scare, (where doctors have now said the biggest fear is fear itself), things must be kept in perspective. Some have tried to characterize the shooter, for example, as a Muslim extremist (he was a convert to Islam, but was born in Canada).  But more information is becoming available about him:  He was also a cocaine and heavy heroin addict and had several criminal offenses.  At one point, he even tried to rob a McDonalds in Vancouver with only a stick so he’d get put in jail, he had said then, to force himself to kick his drug habit. He clearly was a very disturbed person and a portrait is emerging, more of a loner, with a history of problems, closer perhaps to several of the school shooters in the U.S.  He also, as far we can tell, came from a good home; his mother worked in a high-level Canadian Immigration job, and he came from a decent family, although his parents divorced.  His mother hadn’t seen him for 5 years, except the week before the tragic event, for lunch.

There had been a hit and run killing of a Canadian soldier in Quebec, a couple days earlier, by a Muslim sympathizer, so some are trying to connect the two. But people, who had talked with the Parliament attacker at a homeless shelter where he had stayed in Ottawa the past couple weeks, said he told them he was in Ottawa, from Vancouver, to try and get a passport to go Syria or maybe Lbyia, where his father had been from.  In fact, the Canadian government had been holding up his passport, because they wondered if he might have been a security risk.  So the Canadian authorities already knew about him (although they didn’t think he was dangerous).  And he may have resorted to this desperate act partly, out of anger, over that.

He might well have just been, as one former FBI profiler described it, a misfit and copycat killer, who had latched on to radical religion, to try and justify his drug habit and personal problems. We will probably never know, as with so many of these mentally-confused people, what exactly were their motivations, if any.  We can’t understand irrational individuals and acts, so we too often look for re-assuring simple answers.

But that’s not the picture, the media and politicians are presenting to an insecure public. Like in the U.S., there are calls for more guns and guards and giving the intelligence services more far-reaching eavesdropping powers.  He was killed by an armed guard at the Parliament buildings, who bravely, defended the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament and staff. The soldier, who sadly died, was ceremoniously guarding the War Memorial, but had been unarmed.  But more guns and security even may not prevent someone, clearly bent on the destruction of others or himself, from carrying out these kind of attacks. The U.S. White House, has been breached already 7 times this year alone, despite being one of the most guarded places.

The present Canadian Conservative government will, no doubt, try to use this latest incident to push through legislation for tougher security and surveillance. The Conservatives, had right before this, because of their majority status, been able to send Canadian warplanes to join in the fight against ISIS in Iraq (although it’s unclear whether most Canadians really wanted that). Canada has been long known throughout its history for it’s peace-keeping efforts to help keep conflicting parties apart.  The Conservatives had sent soldiers to Afganistan despite the earlier Liberal government not sending Canadian troops to Iraq.  Obama (despite not intervening in Syria and saying he wouldn’t allow chemical weapons- and we don’t hear much about if Assad is really complying or not, in the media these days), and now Canada too, is back in that quagmire.  It will be hard for even the opposition parties in Canada to resist in this mood of fear.  In 1970, the so-called “hippie” Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau put through the War Measures Act and declared martial law and, along with Montreal Mayor Drapeau ( the Canadian version of Mayor Daly of Chicago) used it to stifle their political opponents during the Quebec Crisis.  And Canadian politicians ( with one brave exception, Tommy Douglas)  and the unquestioning Canadian public went right along with it.  Something, which if Nixon had tried it in the U.S., would have led to massive demonstrations. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistle blowers than any previous President.  So politicians, no matter what their leanings, will use public fear for their own advantage.

Canadian Remembrance Day for war veterans is coming up November 11 and there will be calls for supporting soldiers and the military, much as there was for the First Responders and U.S. military after 9/11. George Bush exploited that mood in America, and intelligence budgets blossomed and privacy rights were lessened. Edward Snowden revealed that at one time, the NSA wanted every device sold to the public, to be secretly outfitted with eavesdropping capabilities (and they almost got it!).

So things, as I say, should be kept in perspective. This killer, appears to have been more of a disturbed lone gunman, more influenced by personal demons, with religious leanings, and there could well be more copycat attempts, as there was after the school shootings ( there were two NYC policemen attacked with a hatchet, shortly after the Canadian incident and some authorities had labeled  it “terrorism”, but the man’s friends said he just hated police and whites, so we have to be careful not to label these copycat ‘lone wolfs’ as “terrorist”).

But all the emotional calls for more guns and tougher public surveillance laws should be tempered in an atmosphere of public unease.  The media’s and politicians’ own agendas should be examined too.  And all the flag waving and understandable emotional outpourings, now in Canada too, brought up by this senseless act, aren’t necessarily going to solve the problem.

The central structure in the Canadian Parliament buildings is named the PEACE TOWER, and we shouldn’t let a madman or our over-reactions change that.

But in that sense, yes, Canada has lost its innocence.

“IMAGINE” by John Lennon

Imagine there’s no countries

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living Life in Peace

You may say I’m A Dreamer

But I’m Not the only one

Lennon’s words of wisdom on how to respond to violence: