One year ago this week Chuck Berry collapsed on stage in Chicago. It was a call to action for many people who had been slacking on seeing his live show at Blueberry Hill.
As residents of this city, it's hard to get perspective on just how amazing it is that Chuck Berry, the dude who probably invented rock and roll, plays here monthly. And that tickets-- while they need to be bought in advance-- are mega cheap, relatively.
We don't want you to miss out on this opportunity so let's go over some of the reasons that you, St. Louisan, shouldn't wait any longer to go see the legend in action.
Well, he's Chuck. Fucking. Berry. Yes, he's older now. No, he can't duck walk for miles at a time. Sure, sometimes he loses his place when playing his songs. But give the dude a break- he's 85 years old! It's endearing when he sometimes forgets a line. And chances are that Berry at his worst is still better than you at your best, so put down the Haterade.
Okay, it's true that he has a sketchy past. He's been described as scary, intimidating, violent and creepy. He's been accused of some things that are beyond unsavory. (I'm not even talking about the legendary "sandwich" story, either.)
But he seems to have mellowed. And his musical legacy is still inarguable. As far as history is concerned, he is king. And if Chuck Berry wants to watch me tinkle... well he can, goshdarnit.
He's an international treasure. I lived in London for a bit and whenever people asked me where I was from and I said "St. Louis" they immediately said "Chuck Berry!" This happened every time.
The things Europeans knew about St. Louis, in order, were: 1) Chuck Berry 2) East St. Louis and 3) The Gateway Arch.
Kevin O'Connor of STL's 7 Shot Screamers had a similar experience:
"My singer Mike Leahy and I visited London in fall of 2000. Even though we were both underage by American standards we were of drinking age over there. One night we stumbled upon a place in North London called the Elephant's Head where, coincidentally, they were having rockabilly/R&B record spin. The local teddy boys in the bar recognized we were from the states and asked us from which part. When we said "St. Louis" they instantly said "Chuck Berry." That right there was rock and roll diplomacy at its finest. Instant friendship and several pints bought..."
He won't be around forever. Music legends are dropping all over the place. Just this month it was Hubert Sumlin. And on the first of this year, we thought Chuck Berry might expire, too.
My sister was at the now infamous Berry show at the Congress Theater in Chicago when he collapsed on stage. She said:
"He was yelling at the other musicians on stage. And then he started slumping over when he was playing his piano. And then people started to assist them and he kept shooing them off, as if they were annoying him. Then it got to the point to where the backup musicians stopped playing the little loop that they were playing. There was a younger lady assistant who came out and she helped him off the stage and he walked off and we call clapped. Then we sat around for about fifteen minutes. My friends and I moved spots to get a better seat because pretty much half of the auditorium left. And then he came back on and basically said thank you for a long time and then he left... I thought he was going to die. I totally thought that I saw the last Chuck Berry show."
This is something that lots of people wish they could do. People from all over the world save up for years, spend their life savings or dip into their retirement funds just for the opportunity to travel to the States once to see Chuck Berry play. Each show is full of international travelers and usually more than one celebrity attendee. (I even met Mike Mills of R.E.M. after a Berry show once. He was nice.)
I have a friend who works at Blueberry Hill and has seen Chuck Berry play countless times. One night he bought his dad tickets to the show as a gift. After the show was over, his beaming pops made a declaration that has stuck with him years later: "That was amazing! It was so great to see him real life! Man, John Lennon would have sucked his dick!"
My friend said that it took hearing his dad's crass remark for him to fully realize what an impact that Chuck Berry has had on everyone, including other legends.
So go see Chuck. And if he asks if you want to share a sandwich, say yes.