i was a pre-teen when i first heard the man singing and playing. Twelve. i was twelve, deep into the giddiness of testosterone driven faux coolness, or in other words, being different from all about me, or at least i thought so. In that pubescent innocence, i wallowed in the new thing called Rock ‘n Roll.
Oh, there were wonderful things that took me away, made me a hero, made me a lover (without a real good handle on what that meant), let me suffer in my forlorn abjectness of rejection i assumed from beautiful young girls. It was Rock ‘n Roll. Ray Peterson sang a bubblegum version of “Corrina, Corrina.” Marty Robbins sang “A White Sport Coat.” Carl Perkins sang “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sonny James sang “Young Love.” The Coasters sang “Searchin'” and “Young Blood” long before “Poison Ivy” and “Charlie Brown,” but after “Idol with the Golden Head,” which remains one of my all time favorites.
And a long time before earbuds and cassette players and iPods and Smart Phones and iTunes, i would sing those songs with gusto while mowing the two acres of yard across the street, thinking no one could hear me above the roar of the two-cycle power mower.
Then, i (actually i think it was for all three of us: Martha, Joe, and me, but i was oldest and i claimed it as mine) bought or more likely was given a “portable” 45 RPM record player, and i would take my hard-earned weekly mowing money from the Cowan’s and the Frame’s and head to College Street between East Main and East Gay to Simm’s Magnavox store with the forty-fives in wooden cases and buy as many as i could afford, take them home, play them on that self-same portable record player.
Considering my pre-occupation with Rock ‘n Roll, or as much pre-occupation as a pre-teen pubescent boy in a little town flat smack in the middle of Tennessee could have while he was dreaming of becoming a football, basketball, and baseball star, i am sure i must have heard Chuck Berry’s earliest recorded singles (We called them singles, which in retrospect seems a bit odd since singles had a “B” side). But they didn’t seem to stick with me, or rather they were blown away from my consideration by one song.
1957. “School Days.” i was mowing and singing in the summer. i wished my world to be Chuck Berry’s “School Days.” Mowing became a solid repetition of singing the song over and over and over…
The man was a genius. He touched an unexplored corner of our souls. He mixed country, rock, and rhythm and blues. He crossed lines. Unfortunately, one story has it one of those lines was a state line while escorting a minor young woman across some of those state lines and those twenty months in prison changed him those who knew him say.
Later, i admired him for his bravado. i am not wise enough to know what really happened back in that Mann Act period, but them white men and that white judge sending him off to prison makes me a little bit suspicious about what really happened. It annoys me the truth, justice, has been fogged by pretentious morals and prejudice.
But the man kept playing, and i loved every song.
He came from music. St. Louis. According to Wikipedia his influences were Nat King Cole, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Louis Jordan, Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Monroe. Now that’s a background.
Oh yes, i sang “Sweet Little Sixteen” behind that roaring two-cycle. But “School Days” was my anthem.
It never happened, of course. It was on its way during my junior high years, two of the best years of my life while i kept singing “Up in the morning, and off to school; the teacher is teaching the ‘Golden Rule.'” But my folks thought i should have the advantage of the military school up the hill called Castle Heights. They were right. A military prep school doesn’t quite mix with Chuck Berry’s “School Days.”
But i won’t forget the feeling of jubilation while thinking of the glory of my (never happening) “School Days” when:
As soon as three o’clock rolls around
And you lay your burden down
Throw down your books and outta your seat
You go down the hallway and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in
You gotta hear somthin’ that’s really hot
With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you’ve been waitin’ to dance
And you feel the music from head to toe
Round and round and round and round you go
And i won’t forget Chuck Berry.
Long live Rock ‘n Roll.