I tried to name my daughter Tulane.
Didn’t work—although years later she adopted it as her name for at least a few hours.
I thought about Maybellene, but it seemed a little hard core.
What I love about Chuck Berry’s women is how unapologetically freewheeling and independent they all are—always just disappearing over the hill, over the counter or into a downtown cab.
Johnny jumped the counter
But he stumbled and fell
Tulane made it over
Johnny fell to the yell
Go head on, Tulane
He can’t catch up to you
He ain’t man enough for you!
Tulane seemed like a good role model for my daughter—a girl who can jump the counter and outrun the law. (Not that I wanted her to have any such troubles. My other thought at the time was Jackie, for the Jackie Joyner Kersey I’d just seen jumping hurdles and running faster than I could imagine. But she wound up as Jade, from a book someone had brought to the hospital about a girl in San Francisco.)
When Johnny winds up in prison, he’s singing the blues fondly.
Lord have mercy on my little Tulane
She’s too alive to try to live alone
Tell her to LIVE, and I’ll understand it
And even love her more when I come back home.
Compare that to Chuck’s youthful progeny Mick and John, who wrote “Under My Thumb” and “Run for your Life,” or Joe, who’s marching unstoppably down the street with a gun. It took years for John Lennon to start over.
Nadine and Maybellene were always disappearing in Cadillacs. Did he care? Yes, sure—it made chase them harder. He gunned the motor, prayed for rain, and caught Maybellene at the top of the hill. And it made him shop for a Cadillac of his own—a yellow convertible four door De Ville.
Even Sweet Little Sixteen has a life of her own—manipulating mom and dad, running to and fro for autographs, wearing lipstick and tight dresses (or, in later years, miniskirts, hot pants, or tight jeans), driving the cats wild. Little Queenie, looking like a model on the cover of a magazine, gets him thinking. Carol motivates him to learn to dance.
Even little Marie is out of reach.
Nadine has some of the most vivid poetry.
It was written in prison sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Incarceration can probably give a man a vivid imagination. When Chuck Berry was in prison for tax problems in the late 1970s he wrote his autobiography and admits that “It may be obvious that the book displays certain longings…”.
Nadine is like a vision from the prison window—tall, tantalizing, a wayward summer breeze, but always just out of reach. No Cadillac of his own, he sees her from the city bus.
…when she turned and doubled back
And started walking toward a coffee colored Cadilac
I was pushin’ through the crowd trying to get to where she’s at
I was campaign shoutin’ like a southern diplomat
Nadine! Honey is that you?
Can’t you see her now?
Lord have mercy!