During random outbursts of embarrassing news, bouts of crankiness, or tired renditions of “My Ding-a-Ling,” I become a little defensive about my Chuck Berry problem. But ultimately I am consoled that my obsession has got legs and staying power. He really is good. His legend and influence grows. He’s our Michelangelo-- our Dante.
Last night I challenged my wife to name someone with more cultural impact. She said “Shakespeare.”
OK, she got me, first time.
“But he’s the only one!” I said.
I am quick to acknowledge other musical geniuses—greater ones: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Muddy Waters. But Chuck Berry’s importance goes beyond the music itself. He changed a culture. He is one of the big daddies of modern history. He didn’t do it alone, but he is at the center of a storm that swept out the old and replaced it with something new and different. He is one of the big daddies of post renaissance history—a guy who could tell Tchaikovsky the news and get away with it.
Back when internet research was something new I typed his name into something called “Lexis.” I got 684 hits.
I hear him every day on the radio—not his own songs, perhaps—but his influence.
He’s an American giant—a world heritage giant.
And you could go see him, tonight. At B.B. King’s.
(That guy is pretty great himself!)