Chuck Berry Gets a Loving Goodbye from the City He Always Called Home
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Apr 10, 2017
It is impossible to overstate the significance of Chuck Edward Anderson Berry. He’s been frequently credited with inventing the entire genre of rock & roll music, but his influence reached much further than the radio. His existence changed the world.
Berry was the ultimate cultural icon. No other figure in the history of modern music has had such a lasting, measurable impact. And as a native and proud St. Louisan, Berry has always held an extra-special place in the heart of locals. Chuck Berry, you see, belonged to us. He was the embodiment of all that is magical and special about St. Louis culture, and when he died last month, a huge part of our history died along with him.
It took a few weeks to put together, but Berry’s family planned a wonderful series of events to celebrate his life. Chuck loved an audience, and this entire past weekend was set up so that fans could participate in saying goodbye. There was a toast held outside on Delmar Boulevard on Saturday night, followed by a viewing of Berry’s body on Sunday morning at the Pageant that was open to the public.
The private service for the family was scheduled to commence immediately after the public viewing, and the Berry family gave out passes to the private service to three hundred members of the public who queued up excitedly in the hopes of witnessing this historic event. It was a generous offering to many of Chuck’s biggest longtime fans.
Some of those fans had been waiting outside the Pageant since 5 a.m., when the line for the viewing started. There was a steady stream of mourners all morning, but most just popped in for a minute or two, paid their respects and then left. There was never a long, intolerable line to get into the viewing. In fact, for most of the day visitors could pretty much just walk right in.
Many fans who expected the process to take longer spent the rest of their day hanging around outside the venue, enjoying the breezy weather while trading their favorite Berry stories. The majority of these fans had managed to see Berry play live, something that all agreed was a special event.
In a live music setting, Chuck Berry could not be beat. He played a monthly show at Blueberry Hill’s tiny basement venue, the Duck Room, well into his ’80s. Though those shows got progressively looser over the years, Berry made up for his slipping technical abilities by piling on the charisma. He stood there and smiled and the entire crowd smiled back, overjoyed just to be in the same room as him.
And though he was always untouchable on stage, Berry’s behavior off stage was more than troublesome. To put it simply: Chuck Berry was not always a hero. He had a long and documented history of assaulting women and this fact did not go unaddressed on the day of his service. A small group of protesters held up signs outside of the entrance to the Pageant to remind visitors of the darker side of his history.
But inside the venue, it was all love. Berry’s body was laid out tastefully and the room was beautifully decorated and lit. A parade of speakers took the stage to sing Berry’s praises. Many of them took the time to mention that Berry was a civil rights icon: What Berry did with music helped people to cross racial divides out in the streets. White audiences who might not have otherwise embraced a black musician were helpless to resist the power of Berry’s guitar.
Gene Simmons of KISS was a surprise speaker at the service. He was hiding out in the back and looked properly devastated before being asked to say a few words. His impromptu speech was one of the best of the entire event; he told the audience about his own past as a young immigrant to the United States and about how Berry and his music helped to bring people together.
“It’s a sad day, but I think it’s a happy time. Look at the legacy,” Simmons said. “He broke down the barriers and made all kinds of people’s hearts and minds open up to the idea that we all belong to the same people.”
Another crowd favorite was Marshall Chess, son of Leonard Chess of Chess Records. He’s an engaging, delightful storyteller and his charm was on full display. But the speech of the day, appropriately, came from Charles Berry Jr. He was funny, sincere and remarkably composed, given the circumstances. He explained that his father was his hero and that he felt honored to be able to learn from the master. He said that many people taught him how to be a musician, but that his father taught him how to be a man.
Charles Berry Jr. thanked his many friends and family members in attendance and then, in a remarkable display of midwestern hospitality, he took a moment to address the public, who had been seated in the balcony area. He looked up and said, “You’re my friends now, too, because you’re here with me.”
During this moment, and when Berry’s clearly heartbroken grandchildren performed (“We are doing this in remembrance of our grandfather, and for the joy of our grandmother”), the crowd always acted respectfully, seeming to realize that though it looked like a state funeral and the deceased was a world-renowned celebrity, this was absolutely a personal family event.
The entire service was overwhelmingly and impressively touching. There were musical performances from Marlissa Hudson, Dwayne Buggs, Johnny Rivers and Billy Peek. Outside after the service, the Funky Butt Brass Band played a devastating rendition of “St. Louis Blues” as the coffin was loaded into the hearse. (Little Richard had also been scheduled to attend and sing a gospel song, but he had fallen ill and couldn’t make it.) Near the end of the service, condolence letters from Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and St. Louis mayor Francis Slay were read to the crowd. Slay’s proclamation was read by new mayor-elect Lyda Krewson, and it praised Berry for always sticking close to home.
Legendary local bluesman Mat Wilson is a huge fan of Berry and attended every event this weekend that honored his hero, including the public toast and moment of silence held at Berry’s Walk of Fame star outside Blueberry Hill on Saturday night. A scholar of American music with a special interest in regional history, Wilson praises Berry easily and enthusiastically.
“My band, the Loot Rock Gang, got to open for Chuck, and I also had a chance to open for Chuck playing guitar for my wife, Little Rachel,” Wilson says. “It was quite the honor. Chuck is the grandfather of rock & roll and I think it was really special to have him here in our neighborhood. He’s the originator. It’s not to be taken lightly that the originator of rock & roll came from our own town.”
Echoing this sentiment, St. Louis native and real life guitar hero Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Love Spit Love, Thin Lizzy, Pale Divine) also stopped into Berry’s viewing on Sunday afternoon to pay his respects.
Fortus said, “For me, this was a big part of my growing up, being from St. Louis. Not only his music, but his persona. The early videos for me were huge: seeing Chuck Berry on TV and what an enigmatic performer he was. I remember playing down on the Landing when I was a kid and him coming in and grabbing a guitar and yelling at people if they didn’t know his songs. It was awesome.
“It was special, growing up in St. Louis and knowing that he was part of the lineage,” he added. “He’s one of the biggest parts in the history of rock & roll.”
The Funky Butt Brass Band plays Chuck out:
link: Riverfront Times
Negative Approach and Dinosaur Jr Members Played a Surprise St. Louis Show Last Night
By Jaime Lees
Wed, Mar 22, 2017
Negative Approach, Trauma Harness and members of Dinosaur Jr played a show at the Way Out Club last night. It wasn’t technically a “secret” show, but it was unadvertised and promoted primarily via word of mouth. Dinosaur Jr slayed at a sold out concert at Delmar Hall just a few days ago, so as a professional courtesy this performance at the comparatively tiny Way Out Club was to stay fairly underground.
This smaller show was organized by Jeremy Kannapell, who in addition to being a seemingly inexhaustible show booker/promoter, is also the program coordinator for New Music Circle and performs his own music under the name Ghost Ice. Kannapell started putting the word out over the weekend and by the time doors opened at the Way Out Club on Tuesday night, it was clear from the size of the excited crowd waiting outside that word had gotten around.
Dinosaur Jr bassist Lou Barlow opened the night with a quiet, sincere, beautifully delicate solo set — just him sitting on a stool with a tiny guitar. The vibe of the room changed quickly when Dinosaur Jr guitarist J Mascis took the stage with a band made up of Dinosaur Jr’s hugely talented tour crew, and they launched into a set of songs by the Stooges. (It ripped, yo.) This was followed by Negative Approach, who drenched the place with so much energy that it seemed like it might explode. The headliner for the night was local band Trauma Harness, and these future legends fit in seamlessly alongside the established greats. KDHX DJ Jeff Hess provided music between the sets.
Many attendees described this show as even better than they could’ve imagined — saying that they felt honored to witness these unique performances at such a small venue for a mere $10. It was a memorable, magical experience.
We captured this holy night for you in photographs and in video. Please enjoy below.
Lou Barlow solo
J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr’s tour crew cover the Stooges
Bonus footage – John Brannon of Negative Approach sings the Stooges’ “TV Eye” with Dinosaur Jr at Delmar Hall on March 19, 2017
link: Riverfront Times
Alt-Rock Royalty Dinosaur Jr Refuses to Go Extinct
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Mar 13, 2017
Though Dinosaur Jr is hailed by fans as one of the all-time greatest acts tied to the “alternative rock” movement, it never achieved proper mainstream success. Founded in Amherst, Massachusetts, in decidedly pre-grunge 1984, Dinosaur Jr toiled for years on the edges of the local punk scene: too out there for most people to comprehend and too weird to really fit in anywhere else.
Over time this independence has worked to the band’s favor. By not being pigeonholed into any specific scene or claimed by any one genre, it had the freedom to grow organically. Because Dinosaur Jr was the band for nobody in particular, it was eventually able to become the band for everybody. In 1990, the group went from releasing records on tastemaker labels such as SST to signing a deal with major label Sire Records. But despite minor achievements and enormous accolades, by the mid-1990s, the band had fallen apart and scattered. Singer and guitarist J Mascis continued with the band name for a couple of years, while bassist Lou Barlow went to steer Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion, and drummer Emmett Murphy (who goes by the singular “Murph” in all credits and press) started drumming in the Lemonheads.
A reunion was deemed unlikely — the members of Dinosaur Jr seemed to actively dislike each other and were notoriously unable to communicate about even basic things with any success. But Murph tells RFT that he still supported a reunion long before it actually happened — and he even had a certain notable drummer-turned-guitarist in his corner.
“I was doing the Lemonheads and I remember we played at a festival that the Foo Fighters were on,” Murph recalls. “We were hanging out with Dave Grohl and he came up to me, and he’s like, ‘Dude, you gotta get Dino back together! C’mon, dude, you gotta call those guys up!’ And I would just be like, ‘I don’t know, man, I just don’t think J is into it.’ And I would ask J every few years. I’d see him on the street and I’d be like, ‘C’mon, dude. Dino reunion.’ And he’d be kind of like Lurch from The Addams Family — he’d just kind of go, ‘Uhhh, I don’t think so.’”
By the time the original three finally reunited to tour on the reissues of their old albums in 2005, interest in the band was at an all-time high. Then the group released Beyond in 2007, its first album as a reformed unit, and the new music was brilliant. The stellar songs were classic Dinosaur Jr, in the best way — a relief to long-time fans who feared that the band might have lost its magic over the years or might screw up its legacy with attempts at a new sound.
Murph himself acknowledges the hit-or-miss aspect of reunited bands with new music. “Most bands I’ve seen get back together, they have some new direction and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, this is painful. This is bad. Like, what are you guys doing?’’ he says. “That happens all of the time.”
Many fans thought some of the Pixies reunion shows, in particular, felt like taking a knee to the family jewels. Murph is candid on the subject. “They might’ve had Kim Shattuck [of the Muffs] on bass, because I saw them a couple of times with her and it was horrible. It was so bad,” he says. “Then they got this LA woman [Paz Lenchantin] who’s this slick, like, gun-for-hire, and then it sounded so much better. I was living in LA like four summers ago, and so much music goes through there. I got to see the Breeders one weekend and Pixies the next. And the Breeders were just, head and shoulders, so much better than the Pixies. Like, I couldn’t believe how much better the Breeders were. It was such a good show. It was amazing.”
Murph likes to take in many different bands, and fans of all different types of music love his band, too: Dinosaur Jr’s brutally loud and heavy — yet frequently sweepingly melodic — music is beloved by fans of rock, psychedelic, alternative, punk, pop, prog, noise, classic rock and jam bands. But even though that’s been the case for 30 years, the band’s members are only just starting process the scope of their popularity. Murph says that he was delighted when he recently learned that Dinosaur Jr is frequently discussed online in chat rooms by fans of the band Phish.
“I was, like, totally blown away,” Murph says. “Really? We were mentioned in a Phish chat room? Because we’re kind of, like, from the punk, and that’s like the opposite. Most of the hippie jammy band kids just are not into noise or punk at all — they’re into bluegrass and folk and all that stuff. So I thought that was really funny.” Still, Murph concedes that the band has done some jam band “noodling.”
“I mean, I’m into that stuff, personally. I grew up listening to like Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra, so I can relate,” he says. “But as a band we’ve always come from — and J and Lou are definitely from — like, thrash and oi! roots, so it always surprises me when we get crossover fans. I’m always kind of shocked.” Dinosaur Jr is currently on a tour of high-end mid-sized venues and will spend the summer playing at major festivals. Murph seems almost bashful about his group’s success, even though he remains hopeful about the future.
The band’s interpersonal relationships must be better, too. Murph explains that while touring life is often seen by outsiders as glamorous, it’s really just eight to ten people crammed onto one bus, day in and day out. In that way, he says, it’s similar to sailing, where everybody is stuck in one little area.
But what if they managed to get more buses? “If we were like Bon Jovi or something that would be great,” Murph says with a laugh. “I don’t think we’re at that level yet.”
8 p.m. Sunday, March 19. Delmar Hall, 6133 Delmar Boulevard. $25 to $28. 314-726-6161.
link: Riverfront Times
Britney Spears, Queen of Punk, Shaved Her Head 10 Years Ago Today
By Jaime Lees
Thu, Feb 16, 2017
Today marks ten years since Britney Spears shocked the world by shaving her own head. The reasons behind this bold event are still unclear, but one fact remains: On February 16, 2007, everything changed. Britney Spears became the ultimate punk.
Spears had been in the public eye for eight years at that point and had already experienced a number of transformations. She came on the scene in pigtails and a Catholic schoolgirl skirt, cooing “… Baby One More Time” and captured the attention of both the teen crowd and legions of Lolita-chasers. Her breakthrough album sold an insane amount, spawned numerous singles and featured Spears posing on the cover in an upskirt photo that was just inches away from being all kinds of illegal. Genius.
She worked that virginal but innocently sexy thing until it got played out and then began her first transformation. She offered the idea that she was not a girl, not yet a woman. This version of Spears was sexually curious and working for ownership of her body and her autonomy. This again put a tent in the pants of her creepier followers, but many of her loyal fans were at that same stage in their lives. Unlike her fans, though, she was actually banging Justin Timberlake, who was then a boy-bander with ramen noodle hair and who was nowhere near to bringing sexy back.
A grown woman version of Spears came next and so did her fans. (Rimshot!) She kissed Madonna on television and released an album of emotional ballads and next level club tunes including the brilliant “Toxic.” This version of Spears was fully developed and man, she was horny for you, sir. By this time she reigned as the modern queen of pop and was an unmissable, incalculable superstar.
Spears had long been portrayed as some kind of feminine ideal. Blonde hair, tan, tight body, flat abs, sweet disposition, slight lisp, excellent at playing dumb — she was the perfect little MTV package. She played a coy nymphet all the way to the bank and became the sex symbol of her generation.
She was also under inconceivable amounts of pressure to maintain this status, her body, her power and keep bringing in all that money. Her image started to crack. It showed, but things were still under control. She married Kevin Federline and birthed a couple of his puppies. She also left her house while looking a hot mess and did other things that a superstar just wasn’t supposed to do. (Or wasn’t supposed to be seen doing, at least.)
She spent the end of 2006 clubbing with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, offering up all kinds of gold for the paparazzi. (Not gonna link it but you know what happened every time she exited a car.) The impression she gave was that she was a bit out of control, but in a “party girl” kind of way. This seemed to just be a phase that lots of LA-based stars go through before they settle down and find yoga. This time in her life was fully documented and she seemed to be acting erratic at best. She was slipping right in front of our eyes and there was literally nowhere to go but down. And most interestingly: she did not seem to give one fuck.
When most people think of punk, they think of sneering 1970s icons like Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols. Or they think of bored black-clad delinquents like the Ramones. Or they think of the undiluted Midwest psychosis of Iggy and the Stooges. Most people do not think of teen pop idols like Britney Spears.
But those exalted punk heroes had nothing to lose. They could go out and blow snot and talk shit and complain about society and capitalism and everything else and it was expected that they would behave like that. That was their job. The “classic” punks never had any measurable success to begin with, so it didn’t really matter if they threw it all away. Johnny Rotten was born poor and ugly, but Britney Spears was born to be a pretty pop princess.
Spears had much, much farther to fall. And fall she did. Why? Nobody really knows for sure. But the shaving of her head was a watershed, no-turning-back kind of event. It could’ve been the result of a postpartum issue. She’d had two babies in one year and her youngest was only about five months old at the time. Many speculate that she was concerned that she’d lose custody of her children because of her rumored drug use, so she shaved her head in a misguided attempt to thwart any tests that could’ve been done on her hair. Other insiders suggested that she’d received a devastating medical diagnosis and was acting out. Maybe her hair extensions were just pulling painfully at her scalp? Or maybe she’d just had enough of it all.
No matter the reason, the result was still the same. The most omnipresent superstar of her generation very publicly attacked herself. For a female pop star, literally the most confrontational thing she could do was to attack her beauty. It was the ultimate anti-establishment move.
And it’s not like she went to some chi-chi Beverly Hills salon to get a well-designed close crop. She wasn’t Sinead O’Connor and being bald was absolutely not part of her known look. She basically buzzed her melon with dog clippers in full view of the cameras while smiling manically. This is the pop culture equivalent of when those monks protest by sitting in the middle of a street and lighting themselves on fire.
The general reaction at that point wasn’t “check out this crazy bitch.” It was “Why won’t anyone help this poor girl?” The head shaving was followed by an attack on a car with an umbrella where Spears appeared to be wild-eyed and totally out of her mind. (Much later, in a blog post on her website, Spears apologized for the umbrella incident and said that it was a result of going overboard in preparation for a role that she did not get. Hmm.) She also spent months wearing wigs and sobbing in the streets and driving from gas station to gas station on the hunt not just for the perfect bag of Cheetos, but something else unknowable. She was eventually pulled out of her own home and strapped to a gurney and taken into the hospital against her will. All of this, absolutely all of it, was photographed and documented ad nauseum.
Michael Jackson aside, no one in recent pop culture history has had a more public downfall. Spears was put under a conservatorship that is seemingly never-ending, and celebrity gossip blogs opine that she’s under close surveillance and is possibly medicated against her will. (Suck it, Sid Vicious! You wish, Courtney Love!)
Her current show in Las Vegas is rumored to present a zombie version of her former glory, with Spears performing tight, robotic movements without emotion, like the animatronic puppet band at a Chuck-E-Cheese crossed with a tired stripper who can barely contain her contempt for her audience. The majority of the show is known to be lip synched, too. Still, thousands of people go to see it and hand over tons of money for the privilege. Suckers. It’s the Great Pop Swindle. Ever get the feeling that you’ve been cheated? Get that dollar, girl.
And Britney’s no victim. The gossip blogs have it wrong.
Props to those who live and work outside the system, but a smart punk messes things up from the inside. A successful punk finds a way to bend the world to their will. Britney Spears played you. She presented a mirage and you fell for it. Then you gave her your money and she took that money and possibly spent it on drugs. That’s punk as fuck.
And even though you should know better by now, you’ve accepted this mirage for a second time. She sprays on her tan and glues in her hair extensions and you swallow the whole thing all over again. You ignore that 5150 that you see in her eyes so that you can continue your own fantasies. She spends her nights taking all of your money in Vegas and she spends her days painting and relaxing and hosting the most lovable celebrity social media account this side of Chrissy Teigen. You follow that account. And you love it. A movie about her life premieres this weekend on Lifetime. You’ll watch it and you’ll love that, too.