Sunday, May 20, 2012
Just Him and His Guitar (A Repost)
I have nothing against Lady Gaga. Gag if you will, but I figure that most of the people we see on screen have worked hard and have talent. There are undoubtedly people who’ve worked harder, and have more talent who never make it to the big screen or the little screen, but that doesn’t take anything away from those who do. Lady Gaga seems like an original presence with ideas.
But when I watched the fancy video production, the quick edits, the costume changes, the makeup, the boys, the girls, and thought of the hundreds of other talents behind all that—directors, musicians, make-up artists, costume designers, editors, techs, you name it—I thought of our man, travelling alone for decades with a guitar, a briefcase, some well worn clothes and a rental car. He didn’t even bring a band to 90% of his gigs. He certainly didn’t bring a retinue. No agent. No manager. No roadies. He’d show up, and whether the band was good or bad, he’d play—and usually bring down the house and send them all home happy.
Every artist wants the right amplifier! Every musician wants the money!
Most of the famous ones don’t have to ask for it themselves. The road manager handles all of that.
Chuck Berry has done it all on his own, in minimalist style—a good guitar, a cord, a bag of cash, a stage, some hopeful and hopefully competent musicians standing ready leaning to get a hint at the key he’s going to choose waiting for their moment of history.
I was in Sacramento a few weeks ago, wandering around the beautiful brick barn of an auditorium where I saw Chuck Berry perform three times and it set me to wondering: where did he park? How did he find these places without google maps? Who saw him walking up to the back of the auditorium with his guitar? Which door did he knock on?
Without the crews, the managers, the make-up, the costumes, the smoke and mirrors and special effects Chuck Berry swung the guitar around like it was lighter than air, dancing with it, doing things most people can’t do without any burden, and doing it all while spitting out those amazing double string bent notes, making faces, making us dance, making us laugh.