Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Chuck Berry has died. May he rest in peace.

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I will write an extensive tribute later.

He was a Founding Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

He was a Rock ‘n’ Roll Prophet and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Poet.

He was a writer with the immediate understanding of a top class journalist, the widescreen vision of an historian and the timing of a comedian on the stage.

He is one of the greatest chroniclers of American Life.

Hail, Hail, Hail Chuck Berry!

Here he is with a special favourite of mine, ‘School Days’

‘Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

The lyric above is the best teaching aide anyone could ever have if they wanted an example of great Rock ‘n’Roll Songwriting.

Consider the rhythmic flow of the words and music.

Consider the sociological acuity of the observations.

‘The guy behind you won’t leave you alone‘. Don’t you just know that guy!

‘Gee but the teacher don’t know How mean she looks’. 

Teachers never do, never do!

‘Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot’

Now that’s writing! A whole generation and way of life captured perfectly.

‘With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go’

All day long you been wantin’ to dance. All day long!

Rock ‘n’ Roll swept The World because it did make you feel the music from head to toe and because what in the world could possible beat the feeling of makin’ romance with the one you love!

Round and round and round you go!

Chuck Berry set The World spinning and some of us are spinning still!

‘Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul’

And that Baby is Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his thrilling guitar, his poetic words and his sleek charisma Chuck did indeed deliver us from the days of old.

Thank you Chuck for the feeling – body and soul.

 

97 thoughts on “Chuck Berry RIP : Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll!

  1. Hey Thom,

    He was brilliant at what he did and what he contributed to music. As far as Rock n’ Roll goes, he was a Rock god and will forever be in the pantheon. As a human being, well, he could be a real SOB. I know some have a fear or qualm about speaking ill of the dead, but in this case, I witnessed it personally and have heard countless stories of the same behavior. But, if Keith forgave him, I can too. This is a classic case of separating the art from the artist of course. I’m not a moralizer and I never witnessed the other 99.9% of his life, so I will definitely not stand in judgement (which I think is best avoided when possible anyway). I happened to see him with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, and we know Jerry Lee has also left a fair amount of wreckage in his wake. Fortunately or not, I still enjoy his music and I think he’s one of the best country singers that ever lived – but I digress…

    The reason I’m even writing this is that two lines jumped out at me in the “School Days” lyrics that I somehow missed all these years. I guess in my younger and more vulnerable years I would have been too ignorant to know what I was hearing anyway. The two lines make this song more layered and complicated and well, radical may be too strong a term, but let’s say transgressive and rebellious, definitely sly, and are at the same time part of tradition and history.

    “You finally lay your burden down” is (partially) a direct quote from the spiritual “Glory Glory” also known as “When I lay my burden down” and “Deliver me from the days of old” strikes the same chord. So, we have references to slavery. Chuck may be slyly, tongue-in-cheek, saying school makes people feel like slaves and/or he may even be alluding to the regimentation and prison like atmosphere that (at least american schools) used to, and still do, specialize in. Now, I will pull my old and ratty English major cap down even tighter and assert that most of this song can be read as a spiritual, which, as we know, had one meaning for the singers and just sounded like religious work songs to the masters/foremen. In other words, even though this was a time of the beginning of a growth spurt in the black middle-class (in the american sense of the term), one that Mr. Berry’s parents were part of, white supremacy’s oppression and repression continued apace (and has never, ever, stopped). So, even though he personally never wanted for anything materially, all he had to do was breathe to know exactly how free he was every second of his life in the good ol’ u.s. of a. I know it’s not necessary professor for me to explain any of this to you, but for others who may be reading this, let’s snap in the spiritual lens and see what we see. This will be incomplete and quick and dirty because I’m running out of time – but I do want to make the point.

    “Up in the mornin’ and out to…” the fields.
    “…the golden rule…” can only be pure hypocrisy in the fields and usually in the school.
    “Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone…” Strong evidence here…
    “And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone” Master/Foreman…
    “Ring ring goes the bell” On the farm and I believe in the fields a bell would be rung to signal a meal.
    “You’re lucky if you can find a seat/You’re fortunate if you have time to eat” Self explanatory…
    “Back in the classroom open you books” Back to literally slaving away/working for the man.
    “Gee but the teacher don’t know/How mean she looks” Self explanatory…
    “You finally lay your burden down” Has another meaning now, doesn’t it..?
    “Right to the juke joint you go in” More evidence here. Kids, as far as I know, were not let into juke joints, but if you were working on or sharecropping near a plantation (yes, after slavery of course, but there were community rooms during slavery and they probably morphed into jooks) that was the first place you went to lay your burden down, forget, and try to get any semblance of release (church on Sunday: same thing).
    “You gotta hear something that’s really hot” because you need that release, that transcendence…And again, you’ve got that double meaning of kids running to the soda shop and listening to records on the (Juke)box desperately wanting release from not only the regimentation and indoctrination of school, but of life in general. From still “shell shocked” fathers trying to fit in to a life increasingly created by and for the corporations to wives trapped at home trying to make everything perfect, popping “diet pills” and soon after valium just to get through the day, to the brutality and hypocrisy of Jim Crow and McCarthyism and on down the line, to say nothing of the bomb…Kids didn’t have to know every detail about everything that was happening, but they all had ears, eyes, brains, and nervous systems…(Imagine what kids feel today…)
    “With the one you love you’re makin’ romance/All day long you been/Wantin’ to dance/Feelin’ the music from head to toe/‘Round and ’round and ’round you go” Release Release Release! Whirling Dervish Release! Make Love Make Joy Release!
    With cap still firmly on, from ye ol’ dictionary:
    1.release: to set free from restraint, confinement, or servitude
    2. to relieve from something that confines, burdens, or oppresses
    “Hail, hail rock’n’roll” ‘Hail:’ this is elevated language, it’s not hail fellow, well met, it’s “Hail” to a chief, to a higher power. We’re in god territory now…
    “Deliver me from the days of old” Old Testament god, Ancient prayers. Oh deliver me oh Yahweh…
    “Long live rock’n’roll” Hail to the chief…
    “The beat of the drum is loud and bold” From Africa. Ancestors live in the beat, survive in the beat, we thrive in the beat, feel alive in the beat!
    “Rock rock rock’n’roll/The feelin’ is there body and soul” Body and Soul. Body and Soul.

    That’s deep.
    Chuck Berry made that.

    Well, my time was up awhile ago. Back to working for the man…

    Thanks again Thom,

    Peace – and long live the spirit of Rock n’ Roll!

    Liked by 1 person

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