Saturday, 24 November 2012


I'm starting to become a bit obsessed with Chuck Berry. He's the inventor of rock music, really, more than anyone else. In fact, I think that almost all of the really vital popular music up until the arrival of hip-hop came out of the top of his head. Amongst the Fifties rockers he sounds the most modern somehow, and I think the reason for that is he was the first person to give music a sense of momentum - that it's on a journey, that it's moving forwards. We have all lived, to an extent, within Chuck's dream.

I have therefore invented a metaphysical substance that I'm going to call chuckberriness. It's a measure of how much a band or a piece of music embodies Mr. Berry's spiritual essence. It's a measure of vitality, then. But it isn't a measure of luddite authenticity - Kraftwerk were replete with chuckberriness for example, whereas Primal Scream have only a thimbleful.

Chuckberriness has waxed and waned over the years, as all living things must. Chuck is a curious figure in himself, and his music reflects his life. He has spent most of his career as a kind of travelling salesman, driving alone with his guitar to play venues all over the United States, often phoning up his next destination in advance and requesting them to put together a backing band. He's an eerie echo of Spengler's maxim about America being "a nation of trappers, drifting from town to town in the dollar-hunt."

It's in this peripatetic lifestyle that we can derive the genesis for the post-war rock music boom. It's his fusing of African-American musical idioms with the Faustian dream of limitless space and endless travel that captured the Western-European imagination. He revived the Faustian romance with infinity with an injection of rootsy R&B mana. From that moment on, it's easy to follow the arc of chuckberriness, from the genesis of "Johnny B. Goode", through the halcyon days of "L.A. Woman" and "The Passenger", to the petrification of "Shadowplay". From that moment on, chuckberriness became a scarce resource, but as is always the case when dealing with scarcity, the rarer something is, the more who come in search of it.


David Kasper said...

Some serious cocaine fueling his search for infinity in that clip, I reckon!

Phil Knight said...

"It's just Chuck being Chuck"