|Photo by Alan White (See "Particular Places to Go," Right.)|
On the one hand, he wrote a 300 page book. It’s relatively straight forward. He tells about his childhood, his career, his imprisonments, highlights of his romantic life, a few of his opinions about celebrity. It’s a lot.
And despite protests to the contrary he has given hundreds of interviews over his career, and most are still there. There are long ones in Rolling Stone, and short ones on television.
We know that he is proud of his diction, fond of his family, funny, speaks in a flowery sort of language, is sometimes quick to anger, and is patient with the same old questions over and over.
What I think I like about him is that he is grounded in family, property and place. He knows who he is. He has remained who he is.
On stage, performers like Keith Richards want him to rehearse, to follow a script, to play the same song exactly the same way (while other critics complain that that’s exactly what he’s done on his records). But he wings it every time, recreates it every time, for better or for worse, depending on the quality of the band, his mood, and his fingers or hearing on a particular night.
At home he has property—who knows how much? He bought a simple piece of land in Wentzville with his first earnings and has stayed there. He owns other homes and properties. It’s something tangible, that can’t be taken away.
He mows his own property, at age 84. Imagine driving down Buckner Road and seeing him bumping along on his tractor. Presumably you can.
He has been known to make crop circles.
He wrote some of the wittiest, most intelligent song lyrics known to man and sold them to an unsuspecting world. They are now perceived as words for white kids, but they originally rose highest on the rhythm and blues charts.
He is often credited with inventing rock and roll guitar, and making guitar the lead instrument and symbol of the genre.
He is a great showman, dancer, and clown.
He is often portrayed as a money grubber, someone in it only for the dough—and true, he admits that he wrote his songs commercially, and played music because it paid more than painting, or construction, or hairdressing. Its true, too, that he insists on being paid to perform—paid in advance. It’s true that he fought and fights for his rights as an artist, and by doing so taught others to do the same.
Also true that he performs each month for 350 people at a St. Louis bar/restaurant and that the tickets are cheap and that he can’t be earning much at those shows or doing it for any reason but a little spending money and love.
I don’t know who he really is.
What I know is that he has remained absolutely true.
For me, 99 % of the time, he lives only in my imagination. But even there he is solid.
He could have put on the cape and glitter, but he didn’t.
He could have hidden behind a big band and a choir of backup singers, but he didn’t.
He could have surrounded himself with management, hangers on, body guards and such, but he didn’t.
He could have tried to “update” his sound, but except for a one disk flirtation with the wah-wah and a 20 minute monstrosity that I think was supposed to be psychedelic, he didn’t.
He could have moved to Vegas or Branson, but he didn’t.
He could have quit, but he didn’t.
Instead, at 84, he gets out there, in better shape than his (somewhat) younger audience, and he mesmerizes. And sometimes he absolutely nails it.
Who is he really?
In some ways I have no idea.
But like so many of you, I love him.
Thank you, Chuck Berry.
(What you are, really, is a national, world, treasure.)