Accentuate The Positive In Honoring Chuck Berry
July 13, 2011Nothing ever gets done in St. Louis without a lot of snarky crying and gnashing of teeth, and that certainly holds true for erecting a statue to the father of rock 'n' roll, Chuck Berry, a musical genius who brought us "Nadine" and so much more.
The 8-foot-tall sculpture to Berry, located for all posterity on Delmar Boulevard across from Joe Edwards' Blueberry Hill, is set to be formally dedicated in a ceremony on July 29.
Among the complaints leveled at the bronze statue, sculpted in the Wright City studio of Harry Weber, is that it fails as a realistic portrait of Berry. The face looks more like that of Mickey Rooney, rather than a black rocker, according to University City's scribe of yesteryear, E.F. Porter.
Even harsher criticism has been leveled by the local guardians of morality, who contend that erecting a statue to a man with a rap sheet sets a bad example. Berry has done time in state and federal prisons for robbery and prostitution violations.
Blueberry Hills' Edwards and KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan, who've been the fund-driving forces behind the iconic Berry statue, have shrugged off the criticism as business as usual. Edwards told the Word that he's fielded lots of media questions about the Berry "controversies" from all over the country – and he enjoys the chance to answer them.
Edwards says the July 29 event for Berry marks a time to accentuate the positive about St. Louis. It's time to look past the failings and celebrate the fact that we have a native son, revered by historians and musicians around the world: Chuck Berry.
Other towns have been able to look past the shortcomings of their local heroes and honored them without reservation. Their heroes don't hold a candle to the man who made people happy with "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Maybelline."
Poor Minneapolis-St. Paul has to be content with a statue to local cartoonist Charlie Schulz's creation, Lucy, of the Peanuts gang. Come on, Lucy? Lucille "Lucy" van Pelt was a crabby, cynical, nasty fussbudget, who made Charlie Brown miserable.
Poor Chester, Ill., has to be happy with a 6-foot bronze of Popeye, the creation of Elzie C. Segar, who was born in Chester. Come on, Popeye? What if the best we could do in "The Lou" was a middle-aged sailor with two anchor tattoos, thinning hair and unmistakable spinach breath?
Other towns are even worse off than Chester. Seattle has a cement and metal tribute to "The Fremont Troll." Austin is saddled with a tacky tribute to a lanky divinity known as "Maria The Taco Goddess."
Here in St. Louis, we are fortunate to have busts in the Central West End to hometowners like Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot and soon, Kate Chopin. We are blessed, folks. And now we're fortunate to have Chuck Berry. Quite frankly, there is really "No Particular Place To Go," these days, but old St. Louis.
Let's Get Biblical
Defenders of the Berry statue have often acknowledged his run-ins with the law, and then added the proviso: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." So, lets get a bit more biblical here, shall we?
A few winter solstice holidays back, I joined some other irreverent journalists for a media tour of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Scientists tell us that dinosaurs and humans never trod the Earth at the same time, but they do in Kentucky. However, what interested me most at the museum were not the dinosaurs, but the figures of Adam and Eve.
At the museum, the fall from grace of our first parents is explained in exquisite detail. The partaking of the forbidden fruit is responsible for past wars, famines and pestilence, as well as the phenomena of today's youth engaging in premarital sex, rolling doobies and watching porn.
Here's my point: Our very first parents were flawed human beings. They've been responsible for a lot of mayhem over the years. If it weren't for them, we'd be spending a lot less money at The Gap, because we would not know nakedness.
In spite of all this, the religious curators of the Creation Museum have Adam and Eve figures featured prominently. If the originators of sin are okay for display in Kentucky, then shouldn't Chuck Berry be okay on the less sacred ground of Delmar in the Loop?