Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Promised Land

The Promised Land hits enough southern locales-- Norfolk, Virginia; Raleigh in North Carolina, Rockhill, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia just to get started—that it should probably be required reading in high school geography. In his autobiography Berry says he wrote the song in prison. “I remember having extreme difficulty while writing “Promised Land” in trying to secure a road atlas of the United States to verify the routing of the Po’ Boy from Norfolk, Virginia to Los Angeles.”

Maybe the song should be heard in history class, too. When he gets close to Montgomery, Alabama, there’s something like a bus boycott-- struggle and a breakdown, anyway. (Things are always breaking down in Chuck Berry songs-- something that makes them so real.)

Had motor trouble
That turned into a struggle
Half way across Alabam’
And that ‘hound broke down
And left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham

It might mean nothing that Berry was released from prison a month after the white terrorist bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in September 1963, a landmark event in the civil rights struggle, or that the song was recorded a few months later— but check the glint in his eye in this clip, which is so true to the record that I’m betting it was recorded soon after the record came out.

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