Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chuck Berry turned 80 October 18. Jerry Lee Lewis may have called his latest side "Last Man Standing" but he's not, quite. I've never been to St. Louis, so I haven't got the feel for it that I now think I have acquired for Memphis, but it makes sense as a place where the Leibniz or Newton of rock'n'roll might have emerged: it's a crossroads, after all, the sort of place where there'd be a lot of music going on, all different sorts. Of course, he made his records in Chicago, but it's the same deal there as well. Somewhere Saul Bellow says that after World War II everything that was loose in the United States rolled into California, and I think something similar could be said about Chicago's relationship to the South. There was a time when it all rolled up the river.

One thing that I think is an interesting difference between Chuck Berry and his Sun contemporaries is that Berry came to prominence as a live performer-- playing at dances, playing at shows. Elvis' breakout moment came when he was horsing around in the studio, but Berry was inventing this music in front of an audience. I'm not sure what to make of this, exactly-- it seems to say something about the relationship between rock'n'roll and technology, but we already knew that. After all, Muddy Waters invented electricity-- and the history of popular music is really about the history of selling people Edison phonographs.

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