That Chuck Berry Song In Your Head

From the last time Chuck Berry played Chicago. Five, six years ago. . . .
When Chuck Berry, 84, collapsed from unknown causes on stage Saturday night in Chicago, the concert venue was not some glitzy down town tourist trap.

Berry slumped over his keyboards at the Congress Theater. A 2,900 seat, faded architectural gem originally built in the 1920’s as a golden movie palace. The Congress sits on Milwaukee Avenue. Twenty-one blocks northwest of the center of Chicago. Once an unpaved Indian Trail from Chicago to Milwaukee, along which all sorts of flim flam fast buck artists plied their trade alongside hard working people who got up before dark most mornings and did their jobs.

Not all that long ago, there were more Polish people clustered on and around Milwaukee Avenue than there were in most Polish cities. The potential next Mayor of Chicago lives in a condo off Milwaukee Avenue while he waits for his rented house to be empty. And the outposts of the arts, galleries, places where people read poetry dot the urban landscape in tiny storefronts with rhymes of what’s edgy, new and the next big thing.

So the place where the great rock and roller put his head down is a vibrant, alive avenue where people live close to each other, where they go to work, make art and dream big. A place with a history.

Berry was checked out in an ambulance. They he came back on stage and tried again.

He came back on stage and tried again.

The crowd had mostly emptied out, but Chuck Berry came back on stage and tried again.

And just as he did that, somewhere, hurling out in the farthest regions of space, way beyond any known galaxy—the well known story goes—the space capsule sent from our planet out to the heavens in about 1960; that space capsule reached its destination.

The people of that faraway planet opened it up, saw everything we had stuffed inside. The holy texts of the world’s great religions, some equations scribbled by Einstein, a Picasso, a volume of Romeo and Juliet, a Bach Cantata, a Vonnegut book, Keith Jarrett and Duke Ellington recorded, penicillin and the polio vaccine.

There was more. There were items that showcased us at our best.

But the last item was a plastic disc. An old 45 rpm record. Our brothers and sisters, being way beyond us, immediately knew how to make sound come from this “45.” It was a Chuck Berry record.

And those people from that faraway planet listened. Then they wrote a 4 word reply. Stuffed it in the capsule and sent it hurtling out to find us.

It should be here any moment.

What was their four-word response?

Send more Chuck Berry.

9 Responses to “That Chuck Berry Song In Your Head”

  1. Tom Dickinson Says:

    This should be a movie….Send More Chuck Berry….love it!

  2. paulhaider1974 Says:

    I have two memories of Chuck Berry in Chicago, and both occurred in the 21st century. I attended the Hope Fest benefit concert at the Riviera in January of 2000, and Chuck was the headliner after many opening acts that included Robert Cray, Bo Diddley, and the Staple Singers(Pops was still alive but quite frail). Chuck stole the show with his classic songs, legendary guitar licks, and duck walk. My other memory of Chuck took place at Wrigley Field in June of 2001. Chuck was in town for Blues Fest, and he was scheduled to be the guest conductor for Take Me Out to the Ballgame. At the top of the 7th inning, I walked from my seat in the upper deck to buy a hot dog before the game ended. As I made my way to the line, Chuck appeared from a door wearing a ship captain’s white hat and white jacket. I stuck out my hand and said, “Chuck, it’s an honor to meet you!” He shook my hand and said “thanks” before walking up a ramp to the WGN booth where Steve Stone and Chip Caray were waiting for him. So, I shooks hands with the founder of rock music. I don’t mean any disrespect to Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino, but rock & roll wouldn’t exist without Chuck’s songs, guitar licks, and genius as a pioneer. Send more Chuck Berry!

  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    VERY cool! Shaking hands with man himself!

  4. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Yes, this occurred at Wrigley Field too! I will assume that the Cubs lost that game because I was there with my father, and we aren’t known for bringing any good luck to the team.

  5. Tom Cordle Says:

    My comment got lost in the ether … trying again.

    Chuck Berry is often called the father of rock’n’roll, but truth is a handful of others are probably deserving of the title. That said, there’s no denying his influence on popular music. Every picker who ever picked up a guitar has tried to cop his signature chunka-chunka lick.

    That lick made him famous, but behind it was a pretty damn good picker who could play with subtlety and taste when he was offstage. His duck-walking stage antics also contributed to his fame, but behind it was a songwriter who knew exactly how to craft words to reach a young audience.

    One more thing needs be said; Chuck Berry came up in a time and place when he could achieve fame and fortune, but still suffer the slings and arrows of discrimination. In my view, his greatest attribute was the courage to soldier on in that time and place.

    In the process, Chuck Berry and others, most notably Ray Charles, changed America by virtue of their artistic genius – proving yet again, the value of art extends far beyond the obvious.

    So roll over, Beethoven, there’s another genius movin’ in.

  6. chicagoguy14 Says:

    “The value of art extends far beyond the obvious.” I love that!

  7. boomerbob Says:

    I grew up listening to many of the early rock n rollers, Chuck Berry, Ricky Valens, The Belmonts, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, The Shirrelles etc…

    I recall a few movies about the difficulties many of them faced in “their new music” as we crossed over from the 30s and 40s big band and swing music. It’s always fascinated me how musicians seem to represent a change of the guard so to speak and Chuck berry was one of the most prolific of change agents of the time, that’s for certain.

    Early Rock is still cool, even today (at least to me) 🙂

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