One of my favorite writers on the music and significance of Chuck Berry is Michael Lydon, who once published a great piece on Chuck in Ramparts Magazine, and who also wrote the liner notes to the album Back Home. (Mr. Lydon's Ramparts piece was reprinted in his excellent book Rock Folk, which you can find easily on line, and which you'll enjoy for its equally good essays on folks like the Rolling Stones and B. B. King.) Lydon gave me two lines I will never forget. The first was a description of Chuck's guitar style on Back home. Lydon wrote: "his guitar, when not ringing like a bell, has the bitingly fine quality of etched steel." It can't be said better. The other line I'll never forget is one that Chuck uttered when escorting Lydon back to his car after he refused an interview at Berry Park. Says Chuck, "So, standing in the sun ain't my shot." And then he walks away. Lydon went on to write a great essay about the man-- but you can't imagine how many times I've tried that line out for myself. "Standing in the sun ain't my shot." I'm not sure what my shot is. It ain't standing in the sun. But the words don't fit me at all, and I repeat them with a bizarre fascination, the way you might stare at photos of a crime scene.
Anyway, Michael and I have become imaginary friends. He read my efforts to create a book of my own, and sent me one of his. And then this-- an ancient documentary that just resurfaced showing Michael playing guitar and singing in the streets of the New York subway in 1991. You'll note that the song owes more to Edith Piaf than Pierre and the Mademoiselle. But check out the guitar!