Chuck Berry 1997

A great Missouri musican

By Phil Overeem

September 5, Chuck Berry spoke to a group of students at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Mo. He was charming and lecherous and self-deprecating. He began by answering several questions, recited some anonymous poetry (a joking first stanza of "My Ding-a-Ling," a moving "Pass Away" (from ROCKIT!), and "A Vagabond's Dream House") with the skill of an "official" poet laureate, then interacted hilariously with several students, one who had "never heard of [him]" but wanted an autograph for his mom, another who was turned on to Chuck through "Back to the Future" (yuck!) and claimed to have had his life changed by the experience.

Chuck, as usual, was in eccentric form. The only recent song he claimed to have liked was "Achy Breaky Heart"; he wished he'd written "Yesterday" and "Wake Up Little Suzie"; he claimed "Memphis, Tennessee" as "the best story i'd ever written"; he claimed to have new songs ready to go, but also to be too lazy to put 'em out; he sang the praises of Nat Cole, Carl Hogan, T-bone Walker, Tommy Dorsey, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter; he complained that kids today don't seem to want to dance close together, that rap can't teach anybody anything (but he's open), that Madonna and Michael Jackson were more famous than he, that his high school science teacher had brass balls.

When he stated that one of his few regrets was having never invented something (you know, like a better mousetrap), a local teacher chimed in, "you invented rock and roll!" chuck responded by saying, with genuine humility, "i only helped improve it."

Chuck was also presented a couple of certificates, one a congressional proclamation about his being a great missouri musician (a bit late, guys!; also, one of the congressmen who signed it was the host teacher's husband). He was, oddly, travelling with an entourage: his sister, relatively new wife, lawyer, and an old buddy or two). And he didn't offer any tips to young video cam hoisters!