Monday, March 20, 2017
Chuck And Jimmy!
While President Nutty Turd frolicked in Florida yet again as the world burns, the weekend got even worse when it was learned that rock n roll argued inventor, Chuck Berry, passed on at age 90 and the argued greatest newspaper columnist ever, Jimmy Breslin, passed on at age 88. If you are from Chicago, or are a Mike Royko fanboy, as I, Breslin was certainly in the Top 2, right? And Chuck Berry, who wrote the guitar riffs that every other rock guitarist ever used as a center point, was the man who started it all.
Chuck Berry took country swing and combined it with blues to make a new sound that took radio by storm. White kids who normally listened to radio which played weak love songs and regenerated slowed down swing music heard Maybellene and went what the heck is that? Then it ballooned into a hit factory. Using the iconic Chuck Berry riffs, the radio went batshit on Rock n Roll Music, School Days, and the arguably greatest rock song ever, Johnny B Goode. Berry went on tour and on TV perfecting his famous duck walk while showing white America what a black dude from St Louis could do.
Berry entered my life as his career faded. His only #1 hit was a 1972 novelty song recorded live in England. "My Ding A Ling" was played on the Top 40 radio incessantly and I heard it as a rebellious teen and loved it. In retrospect of course its a juvenile crappy song and I bought the 45. But on the flip side (thats when you turn the small record over and play the throwaway song they dumped there, kids), oh the flip side of My Ding A Ling. It was a live version of Johnny B Goode. Goddam, what the heck is that? I played that version of Johnny B Goode about 100 times more than I ever played My Ding A Ling. A movie came out, and I dont recall its name (or I'd buy it) but it was a live stadium concert of 50's and early 60's rock acts like Bill Haley and the Shirelles and Little Richard (please stay alive forever) and Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry rocked and duck walked and played the hell out of that guitar and the movie theater crowd in Texas that day ate up every moment. I then went next door and snuck into Jesus Christ Superstar so I was very religious that day in my worship. Chuck Berry was THE MAN. I dont care about his troubled personal life and his snarkiness and his Trump like obsession with women's urinary functions because again, Chuck Berry was THE MAN.
Jimmy Breslin was the New Yorker most people who think of when they think New Yorker. A cigar chomping hard drinking man's man so to speak. Jimmy Breslin was a newspaper columnist for so many years it's impossible to even remember. He didnt write opinions as much as he wrote stories. Jimmy could take a hugs story, such as the JFK assignation, and write a column about the everyman who actually dug JFK's grave, or about a New York cop's perspective on that fateful night John Lennon was shot at the Dakota. Jimmy Breslin championed the underdog and fought like hell to take down the crooked comfortable who exploited them.
Jimmy Breslin used to be a reporter on a late night televison news program I watched. He interviewed a young Hispanic woman who worked as a maid in a New York hotel and was struggling to feed her children. As Breslin spoke with her she suddenly became passionate about what she was saying and began to speak Spanish for a moment. She apologized and said her English wasnt so good to which Jimmy Breslin made perhaps the kindest remark I may have ever heard. He told her to never apologize for speaking two languages because that was one more language than he could speak. Wow. That is kindness from a rough and tough guy. I have never forgotten that.
Jimmy Breslin was a man who saw things so much differently than most of us. While we were dazzled by the sparkly shiny stuff, he was dazzled by the stuff that didnt sparkle. He wrote an entire book about the worst baseball team ever. The 1962 New York Mets. Breslin wrote The Gang That Couldnt Shoot Straight a novel not about the Trump Administration but about the mob.
God I loved Jimmy Breslin. After the 2004 re-election of George W Bush he just kind of cleared off his desk and went home saying what the hell does it matter anymore. I so wish I had his brain, which he wrote about in I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me: A Memoir about his aneurysm. The man was unique and he never succumbed to the crankiness and conservatism of old age like I think Mike Royko did.
You may remember that David Berkowitz, the serial killer known as Son of Sam who terrorized NYC in the 1970s killing young women and their dates, used to write letters to Breslin at the New York Daily News while he was still at large. When Berkowitz was caught and Breslin went to court to witness the arraignment of this twisted murderer, Berkowitz saw Jimmy and exclaimed " Hey its my friend, I know him" to which Breslin replied in perfect timing "Just shoot him".
Chuck and Jimmy. I will miss you both more than anyone will ever know.