|Chuck Berry, straddling the line between . . .|
With every step I took I wished there was some way to un-read what I'd just read.
It seems like every memorial to the late Chuck Berry begins with a caveat of regret -- he was, evidently, a real piece of work -- and reading that profile (and suspecting the truth of it) is mine.
But of course there is also this: some ten years before I read that piece, I saw black-and-white footage of Chuck doing his thing for a television audience, back in the day.
Let's go ahead and say I saw this in1983. By then I had attended a few rock shows, and had been in the presence of some powerful guitar performances. But here on this little glass screen, I now saw what those younger, whiter yahoos were trying to measure up to.
I still get the shivers, watching this. And how crazy is that? Video was killing the radio star in '83 by importing powerful moving images (including -- especially -- girls, girls, girls) to impart some sense of what the music was like when you saw it live. But here all you've got is a guy and his guitar. Four older fellas trying to keep up, a French audience doing the seated dance. And there is absolutely no mistaking the power and athleticism and raw sexuality of the man's . . . guitar? The innocent observer is tempted to add "Seriously?" But the truth is after you see this you don't see the guitar in any other way. He owned it.
Watching Chuck, millions of scrawny boys who couldn't throw a ball never mind a punch suddenly realised they could forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar. And we did -- some of us quite late in life.
Related: Chuck Berry invented the idea of rock 'n' roll, says Bill (not the Rolling Stone) Wyman. "Berry went gangsta on the world," says Mark Reynolds. Reynolds' piece is especially good for its inclusion and break-down of some footage from a 1972 performance on a German TV soundstage -- highly recommended.