Obit

Chuck Berry: Duckwalking Towards Bethlehem

April 11, 2017

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Chuck Berry

I call them the “€œAckchyuallies“€: the concern trolls who reflexively politicize and pollute every occasion of mass recollection, wailing, “€œColumbus was a mass murderer!”€ and “€œThanksgiving is racist!“€

But when rock & roll pioneer Chuck Berry died last month, for once these human toothaches were onto something. I”€™d call them “€œparty poopers”€ except that, in this instance, that sounds too much like something the target of their scorn would have enjoyed.

Readers of a certain vintage may recall that, in 1961, Berry was found guilty of transporting an underage girl across state lines for “€œimmoral purposes.”€ However, they might still be blissfully ignorant of his other, more scatological perversions, like Berry’s (costly) habit of secretly filming women and girls in the washrooms of his Missouri restaurant.

As a female Guardianista complained, not unreasonably:

The “€˜New York Times”€™ obituary of Berry…didn”€™t mention the Escalanti case until the 23rd paragraph; the so-called “€œpotty camera”€ scandal was entirely absent. Instead, the news coverage of his death leaned on soothingly euphemistic terms like “€œlegal troubles”€ and “€œcolourful life.”€

The longer “€œChuck Berry”€ trended on Twitter, the higher the volume of reactions like this became:

Wasn”€™t Chuck Berry a bankrobber, a statutory rapist, alleged child abuser, and installed cameras in a women’s restroom at his restaurant?

“€”Robert Dobalina, Jr. (@Linhem) March 19, 2017

(Speaking of “€œsex tapes”€: Wait until they find out that Berry’s biggest midcareer hit, “€œMy Ding-a-Ling,”€ was “€œfilled with innuendo about masturbation and recorded in front of school children in Coventry.”€)

“€œNext to making money, screwing jailbait, and coprophilia, Berry’s favorite pastime was seething.”€

Of course, all these prim protestations were buried beneath the gush of sanitary, hyperbolic eulogies from reliably liberal, nay, feminist celebrities like Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, Berry’s death provided them with a brief respite from their burning preoccupation with (a) 12-year-old audio of Donald Trump musing about pussy grabbing, and (b) a so-far imaginary video of him supposedly indulging in some Berry-esque sex play.

This worshipful outpouring was inadvertently revealing, psychologically: Berry famously treated other musicians like dirt, once punching Keith Richards”€”who worshipped the man”€”in the eye. (The Who shared a bill with Chuck Berry in 1969. “€œThe Who loved Chuck Berry, we all loved Chuck Berry,”€ recalled DJ Jeff Dexter. “€œUnfortunately Chuck was a cunt to everybody else.”€)

But others in the left-leaning pro-Berry camp hurried to use his death to make a point about”€”you guessed it”€”racism.

Look: I loathe thin-skinned numpties who detect “€œracism”€ everywhere (I hear “€œmilk is white supremacist“€ now…). But again, I”€™m forced to admit that in this instance, the “€œAckchyuallies”€ had a valid point:

That “€œChuck Berry”€ sequence in Back to the Future was indeed the most racially tone-deaf scene in American cinema since Mickey Rooney and his prosthetic teeth rendered Breakfast at Tiffany’s unwatchable in 1961.

That is: In Back to the Future‘s climactic scene, (very white) 1980s kid Marty McFly, having accidentally time-traveled to the early 1950s, “€œinvents”€ rock & roll by performing Berry’s “€œJohnny B. Goode”€ (complete with duck walk) at a high school dance. In the wings, the leader of the (black) combo originally hired to provide the evening’s more subdued musical entertainment phones his “€œcousin”€ Chuck Berry, yells, “€œListen!”€ and holds out the receiver in the direction of McFly’s ringing guitar.

I defy even Richard Spencer to sit through this scene without cringing. But for the accidental-on-purpose intervention of some random Caucasian kid, certain African-American musicians would never have composed their own songs? The “€œMagical Negro“€ trope is troublesome enough; in Back to the Future, it slathers on whiteface. Just appallingly insulting and ignorant.

But while those who find that scene unforgivably wrongheaded are right, they don”€™t go far enough. To do so uncovers a more complicated story.

Tellingly, Chuck Berry himself, a notoriously petulant diva, never commented on the Back to the Future travesty. The generous compensation he received for the use of his song in the movie couldn”€™t be the reason; surely he was free to complain forever once the check cleared. And next to making money, screwing jailbait, and coprophilia, Berry’s favorite pastime was seething.

But the thing is: While Chuck Berry always acknowledged, in passing, early influences like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker, it was white music-geek rock journos who revealed that, in fact, Berry “€œstole his “€˜Johnny B. Goode”€™ guitar riff”€ from Jordan’s 1946 record “€œAin”€™t That Just Like a Woman,”€ and the song’s guitar break from Walker’s 1950 “€œStrollin”€™ With Bones.”€

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