My appreciation for Chuck Berry came through the side door of popular culture. In “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly ripped apart the room with “Johnny B. Good.” A decade later in “Pulp Fiction” — in the coolest dance scene in film, in my opinion — Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega won a trophy at Jack Rabbit Slim’s while twisting to “You Never Can Tell.” And in the documentary “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” Chuck Berry schools Keith Richards on playing the guitar. Berry is likely the only person who could ever get away with it.
One of my regular haunts in St. Louis is Blueberry Hill, a burger-and-beer joint that’s also a shrine to pop culture. At the helm of that shrine is Chuck Berry, who’s only rivaled by Stan Musial as the city’s favorite son. More than anyone else, owner Joe Edwards kept his flame burning through the years; Berry played monthly shows at Blueberry Hill until late last year.
And so it was poignant that on my last full day in St. Louis, word traveled from across town that Chuck Berry had died at age 90. The architect of rock ‘n roll, the tributes said, who drew the blueprints for everyone who followed.
Be good, Johnny, and rest in peace.