The world lost its oldest teenager this past weekend. 90-year-old Chuck Berry moved-on to that malt shop jukebox in the sky, but his rich legacy endures for youngsters of all ages.
Nobody was ever better matched to his times. Berry’s 1950s guitar riffs spoke to the exuberance and breakout energy of youth at a time when the generation gap grew into a chasm. Teen rebellion was never far from the front in songs like ‘School Days’ and ‘Sweet Little Rock-n-Roller.’ His showmanship was brash and arrogant – they called his signature move the duck walk, but it was really more like a rooster’s strut. A little red rooster.
He evoked a world of girls like Maybelline, Nadine, Little Queenie and the unnamed Sweet Little Sixteen. Cars conveyed the freedom of ‘No Particular Place to Go’ (although an auto trip did cost him his own, for a time). And, of course, there were those naughty double-entendres and sly puns of dawning sexuality embodied in his ‘Ding-a-ling’ and elsewhere. The optimism of the times, too, played-out in catchy ballads like ‘C’est la Vie – You Never Can Tell,’ as covered at various times by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, and Emmylou Harris.
You can draw a straight, solid line from Chuck Berry to the most iconic of later bands – the Beatles, the Beach Boys and especially the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards. When asked why he didn’t pen more of his own songs, blue-eyed bluesman George Thorogood replied that Chuck Berry had already written them.
Personally, the original Brown-eyed Handsome Man is said to have been funny, difficult, mercurial and often scattered. Kind of like the teenager he will forever be. So roll over, Beethoven -- you've got company. And tell Tchaikovsky the news.
Chuck Berry songs are also a parodist’s dream. In his honor, reproduced below is an adaptation of his sort-of autobiographical ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ It recounts the 2002 saga of a southern Ohio bovine who escaped the slaughterhouse and evaded authorities for weeks, as her fame and fandom spread. She was eventually located, given the key to the City of Cincinnati, and lived out her days in a New York animal sanctuary.
As originally ‘published’ at fark.com, I give you:
The Ballad of Bossie B. Goode
Way down in Cincinnati, 'cross from the Land o' FARK,
Far back up in a place that's known as Mt. Storm Park,
There stood a brushy thicket and a stand of wood,
Where hides a bandit heifer known as Bossie B. Goode.
By now she should be rare or maybe medium-well,
But before she gets grilled she'll give some slaughterhouse Hell.
Chorus: Go, Go, etc.
She escaped her execution down at Meyer Meats,
She knew that Oscar weeners just weren't her kind of treats.
She's used to free-range roamin', barns are not her style,
And all she leaves are hoofprints and occasional piles.
The coppers called out choppers fit with infra-red,
There must be no crime in Cincy, or they're outta their heads.
The humans built a fence, and now they've set a lure,
With decoy bovines and the tang of fresh manure.
The Mayor horned-in and offered up the City's key,
And Ohio State an honorary Ph.D.
They thought she'd be a sucker for their oats and hay,
But she's stayed atop the food chain for another day.
SPCA's alerted and they've joined the fray.
They want to take her out to where the antelope play.
A California rancher's offered her a home.
He's got ten-thousand acres where his buffalo roam.
But all our Bossie wants is to be left alone,
And not be carved-up into a filet mignon.
Smart money has her headed for the Interstate,
To make a break for Texas, where the longhorns rate.
Now all she has to do is make it to that road,
And find someone to milk her, so she don't explode.
The odds are stacking up against the humans, now --
It's not everyone who's smarter than a genius cow.