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Friday, March 16, 2018

It’s Easier to Love Chuck Berry Now That He’s Dead

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2018 at 7:44 AM

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  • photo by Jaime Lees

All of this was on my mind last year when I attended his funeral. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle coverage of the event. I think that when writing about Chuck Berry’s work that it’s totally acceptable to leave out the parts where he’s a bad man. But if you’re writing about Chuck Berry’s life, to ignore these aspects makes your piece inaccurate at best. I read countless articles after his death that did not mention his abusiveness or criminal behavior. I know that these journalists just wanted to celebrate their hero, but to pretend that your hero has no shortcomings or failures is ridiculous. It reminds me of those Trump supporters where nothing he says or does ever crosses the line for them.

I knew that nobody on the stage at his funeral would bring up the dead guy’s violent or pervy habits during their eulogies, but outside the building it was another story. I was not surprised when a few protesters showed up with signs. They stood quietly and let their signs do all of the talking. One read, simply: “Your idol is someone else’s abuser.” Members of the public hissed at them but they stayed calm and firm, ready to explain their position.

Because they showed up, I wrote about them. If they hadn’t been there, I would’ve had no reason to dig into that part of his past. I didn’t particularly want to cover that part of his life — that’s not what the funeral was about — but I wasn’t going to ignore it, either. Many people thought that the protesters showing up and my mentioning them was disrespectful, but just because someone is dead doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop talking trash on them if I think it’s justified.

But after the funeral, after the stories were written, after all of the gatherings ended, I found myself talking sweeter on Chuck Berry than I ever had while he was alive. It took a while to realize what had changed — he wasn’t around to get in the way of me loving him anymore. I could enjoy his music and be impressed with his significance without feeling like I also had to step around his troubled past. In addition, I didn’t have to worry about making sure that he wasn’t getting any of my money. (That’s where I draw the line with known shitheads — even if I like them I will not pay them.) Suddenly, all of my personal confusion about Berry dropped away. My thoughts about him were finally free. I didn't need to hold that grudge anymore.

When Berry was honored during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last year, his voice played out loudly over the crowd while footage of his career rolled on the screen.

“After I’m gone,” he said, “I want you to just speak the truth. Be it pro, con, bad, good… Whatever it be, I just hope it’s real.”

It was in that moment that I realized that I’d accidentally made Chuck Berry proud. He didn't want us to skip over the terrible things that he had done in his life. Berry didn’t like any bullshit. Even if it made him look bad, he still wanted to keep it real.

So now nobody gets in the way of me enjoying Chuck Berry — not even Chuck Berry.

Email the author at [email protected]
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