Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”

Chuck Berry died yesterday. I first heard him just before I entered puberty. I liked the music but something about it scared me, pushed me into a dark unknown. I tried to stop listening to it but I couldn’t.

Within a year or so, I was fully in the thrall of puberty and Chuck’s music made perfect sense, heightened every experience I had or wished I was having. Those guitar lines, those knowing grown-up vocals, were burned upon my soul, where they still remain for instant access.

I highly recommend Chuck Berry’s autobiography, told in the unique voice of a man who, without necessarily intending to, helped to integrate the country while living through the horrors of segregation. This is part of the legacy left by one of the greatest, most influential artists who will ever live.

I wrote this in December 2016:

I was on a Navy ship in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. After a tour of duty of several months was over, we headed for home. I went through this three different times. As we would set sail towards California, much of the crew would stay up all night on the helicopter deck, frantically tuning their radios, trying to be the first person to get an American radio station playing some tunes. We were beyond tired, but we were alive and we were going home. Nothing else mattered.

The last time I experienced this ritual, I “won.” I got clear channel KOMA/Oklahoma City to come in, blasting through my radio 11,000 miles away from the station. The first song played was, I kid you not, Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA.”

Chuck Berry turned NINETY in October. He’s got a new album coming out, as he sits on the throne of popular music knowing he’s given millions of us memories we will never forget.

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Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: rockrap@aol.com.

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