RJ SMITH – Chuck Berry: An American Life
- by J.N.
- Posted on 10-04-2023
BAND URL: https://omnibuspress.com/collections/frontpage/products/chuck-berry-an-american-life-published-on-8th-november-2022
Much has been written about rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry over the years, but few books feel as comprehensive and in-depth as this evocative 415-page gem by RJ Smith does. Beautifully written and capable of transporting the reader back in time to bygone eras, this is quite the page-turner.
As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the quest to understand Chuck may prove extremely difficult and that certain pieces to the puzzle will never be uncovered, and in many ways, it is an examination of outward appearance versus privacy, or inward lust, if you will. The run-ins with the law, the lawsuits and allegations, and the controversy associated with the musician are covered here too and nothing is glossed over or played down. With Berry being the complicated man that he was, it should come as no surprise that people’s perceptions (and recollections) of him differed wildly and that his moods were constantly shifting. The author does a great job at illustrating just how pivotal Chuck was with respect to the birth and widespread appeal of rock music, and given that his tunes possessed a seductive quality and a ferocious primal drive, it is not exactly difficult to see or understand why The Rolling Stones and The Beatles covered his tunes on several occasions. Those muscular riffs, hook-laden licks, and vigorous songs are immortal and the stuff of legend, and if one separates the artist from the art, what you are left with is a catalog of compositions that have retained their power to thrill and excite fans and listeners for many decades. But again, there is that story of Berry’s self-creation of a new kind of man that is of vital importance to the narrative, and Chuck Berry: An American Life brings that essential bit to life in a vividly immediate and profound manner.
An intimate and illuminating portrait of the legend has always appeared like an elusive idea to this scribe due to the secretive and oftentimes intensely private aura that surrounded Berry, which may account for why other books on the subject including the guitarist’s own autobiography felt lacking in some respects. However, Chuck Berry: An American Life is something else entirely and stands out as an impeccably researched and nuanced meditation on one of rock music’s most complex individuals. Undoubtedly the most rewarding and satisfying piece on Chuck yet and one that comes highly recommended.