Today Chuck Berry turns ninety years old. He's about to release a new record. It ain't over 'til it's over, right?
Over the years I spent a fair amount of time with him. I can't begin to say that I know him. I can't say that he's a nice guy. Sometimes he's a nice guy.
I will tell you that he's my hero. John Lennon was right- if they hadn't called it rock'n'roll they might have called it Chuck Berry.
When he was first aloof, condescending and rude to me I conjured up a convoluted excuse for him. He had been in prison three times. At least two of his misadventures would not have landed a white man in the pokey. He was in fine financial shape but there were lots of men who were rich from the fruits of his labor. Alan Freed's name still showed up as a co-writer of "Maybellene." Alan Freed couldn't even clap on 2 and 4.
Then I noticed that he and Bo Diddley avoided eye contact with each other. Bo referred to him as "Mr. Berry" and it certainly was not out of any measure of respect.
By the time that he was ever nice to me I was thrilled. I figured that we were getting to know each other. Over time I figured out that I couldn't figure it out. The last time that I saw him we played a two and a half hour set. He was down on his knees, reciting poetry. He must have duckwalked a quarter mile. After the show he begged us to come visit him at Berry Park, his amusement park in St. Louis.
"There's only one cop in Wentzville and I've got Polaroids of him," he quipped. I thought it was a joke. I wish we had gone.
Happy birthday, Mr. Berry. Hail, hail indeed.