He was 90, but, still, damn, just damn.
Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.
The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death on its Facebook page. Mr. Berry died at his home near Wentzville, Mo., about 45 miles west of St. Louis. The department said it responded to a medical emergency and he was declared dead after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment.
Or to put it more succinctly,
“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend, and we jumped on it.”
The coolest thing about Chuck Berry is this:
And Mr. Berry’s music has remained on tour extraterrestrially. “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.
That may not be immortality, but it ain’t bad. Nor was Saturday Night Live’s take on it.
Meanwhile, back on earth, it’s hard to beat Ron Wood’s tribute on his passing.
Chuck Berry will be missed, but never forgotten.
Hail, Hail, rock ‘n roll.