Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Promised Land," revisited...

I was strolling through and saw an old post by Charles, Jr. about a group of artists travelling the route of "Promised Land." Here's a link to the article.

Chuck Berry inspires creative fanaticism. Those of us who are not blogging are doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things. See, as a glorious example, the recent post by Anders on the same forum ( Anders built his vision of Chuck's "Airmobile" from the song "You Can't Catch Me." As you can see,'tis custom made. (I have always imagined something sleeker and lower, with a young Chuck Berry at the wheel. But my vision was obscure, and fleeting, and it never occurred to me to make it concrete!) Anders admits, "Maybe a bit insane..." And though I agree, I would add that it is a bit insane in the best possible way.

Anyway, this gives me an excuse to recycle earlier thoughts about "Promised Land." The song hits enough southern locales-- Norfolk, Virginia; Raleigh in North Carolina, Rockhill, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia (just to get started)—- that it should 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 the "Po' Boy" 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. Anyway, this is a guy who wanted to ride "'cross Mississippi clean" in 1964.

Last, (and least only because it's got no video,) is a version of the song by The Band.

No comments: