Rock around the clock


Unknown


Surely Rock and roll hasn't changed things in the world, but surely many people's lives would have been different without rock and roll. More or less I wrote this (sometimes I don't remember even the exact text of my books) at some point in On my generation. Namely, when I'm sad and things don't go well, I often console myself with a beer, tobacco and a blues disc, the root of rock (and so many other things). People who invented rock and roll and many of those have changed it, or who have been fundamental for it, have done it in a short time and almost without realizing it when they were doing it, and all this is amazing.

In the movie Cadillac Records are described the events of Chess Records, the record company of Chicago founded by Leonard Chess and his brother Phil. They promoted people like Muddy Waters, the harmonica player and singer Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James and others. The movies titled Cadillac Records because Leonard used to give a Cady to his musicians. Chess was the dynamo of what today we can call Chicago Blues, the electronic one. All these people have alternated in the time frame of fifteen years. This movie proves, if needed, the rock matrix was black. These guys, peasants, children of peasants (like Muddy Waters, nickname gave him by his grandmother because the little Muddy liked to swim in the mud of the Mississippi shores) worked in the cotton fields of white people and at the end of a hard day, sat in the verandas of their houses, they pinched the strings of their acoustic guitars literally with their hands dirty of ground. Pretty soon they found themselves from the fields to the registration halls, thanks to the guys of Chess. Full of money, full of women, a great talent in their hands and that bother called success, to be managed. It's a wonderful period, the moment of purism. People who went around with their fingers full of rings and the gun in the holster, just not to forget who they were and where they came from or, maybe, why they didn't realize what they had become. At some point in the movie, there's Muddy Waters out of the studios, leaning against a wall with a foot, smoking a cigarette. He looks like a character of "Poveri ma Belli", but he isn't. Five English guys, who came to Chicago to visit Chess Records Studios, got out from a taxi. He welcomes them, greets them and brings them their suitcases: those guys are the Rolling Stones, overwhelmed fans of Muddy Waters!

In that frame, however, we were already in '64, when that boys had the privilege of playing in Chess studios in Chicago after their initial successes in homeland. In that moment (until then Stones played only covers) they started writing their own pieces. When Muddy's fairytale started to decline, Dartfort's guys will pay Muddy's English tour. Besides, they had to return the favour to the author of Rolling Stone, hadn't they?

Years later, many years later, there's the story told by Keith Richards about his recent meeting with Chuck Berry. An airport somewhere in United States. Richards sees him and he walking toward him to greet him. He approaches him and says: - Hey, Berry, what's up? - But old Chuck, who doesn't love being disturbed, throws a punch on his muzzle, then says: "Hi, sorry, I did not recognize you...

Eh, eh, there is only a throne, the place for only a person in this world.

Oh, rock and roll is the son of a big bitch, surely among all these persons there's a father, but no one knows who he is. The great Chuck Berry, the one of Johnny Be Good, could be its the king, if the great storm didn't fall on the world. It's Elvis's moment and there will be no one else left, the hour when the big mass appropriates rock as a popular phenomenon, and for those under contract with Chess Records comes down the sunset, the whites steal scene and paternity. The white man who sang like a black or a black man who sang the country music of the white men, this was Elvis on the radio. The time most people love, people like Lennon for example, was the Elvis pre-army, the period before his military service, the one of the records for Sun from 1955 to 1958. Three years, only three years which changed the history of rock music. The rest, what happened in the following period, is frankly mortifying for his figure: his meeting with President Richard Nixon, the denunciation of The King to US authorities about the fact the Beatles represented a threat to US youth. Your Majesty, Berry would never have done it.

The fact that the chronology of events is so "close" between the Elvis phenomenon and black rock must not mislead. It was like a tempest: a storm in a part of the city while the sun shines on the other side. At the beginning, they were local phenomena (Elvis, on the other hand, "entered" in all US homes only when Colonel Parker - his manager - contracted with television) and the United States is an extremely wide country. Events happened in a too fast succession and they were so many. But every thing ends if you don't feed it or, if you feed it too much, it ends for excess. The sunset of the period of Chess Records and the decline of Elvis bring us to an equally fascinating event: the British invasion.

Often we wonder about mass reactions and fanaticism. It's February 7, 1966, when a Pam flight left New York City to London. Only three months earlier, John Kennedy was murdered (Dallas, November 22, 1963) and that year Christmas was a recurrence few Americans had the spirit to celebrate. From November until the beginning of that snowy February, media were obsessed only by the amateur video about the president's murder.

Murray the K is an American disc jockey of WMCA radio station in New York. On the plane flying from London to New York, there's an English music group (absolutely unknown in America) and all its staff. On the morning of that February 7, Murray on the radio gives the starting whistle to what will be the madness of the century: It's 6:30 AM, the Beatles Hour. they left London For thirty minutes. In that moment they are on the Atlantic Ocean, heading to New York. The temperature is 32 degree Beatles.

Within a month, the Fabulous Four will have four 45 laps to top positions in the American charts. The single which had upset the young Americans in the radio was "I want to hold your hand" and, in a manner of speaking, it was like the whole country was holding his hands. The rest is history, chronicle and legend. The British invasion had been a little bit planned (guys screaming at New York airport had been gifted with a dollar and various gadgets), but all the rest was come about by accident, thanks to lucky and mysterious circumstances. Beyond any reasonable point of view, it seemed what the world needed at that time.

They leave their own music, a kaleidoscope of innovations, and their strength lies in sounds that often don't vanish, not the big hits, but what remains unheard to the big part of people. Then remain stories, legends, someone who dies for fake and others who die for real, anecdotes and affairs which increase mythology, as the one related to the delivering of MBE. On October 26, 1956, Queen Elizabeth awarded the Fourth with the honour of Members of the Great Order of the British Empire. In England there is the law which punishes the homeowner if drugs are consumed within the house. Liverpool kids, event never denied or confirmed, consume a joint in the bathrooms of Buckingham Palace.

When you did it in America, you did it everywhere. No singer or English group, up to that time, had reached the top in United States. In that moment it seemed almost impossible to get visibility if you hadn't been of British nationality. There are exceptions, one, bigger than others, is called Jimi Hendrix. Complicated childhood, hard dues to emerge, Jimi represents what we could call the highest sacrifice. Hendrix and its reverse path, from United States, Seattle, its city, to England. It's September 23, 1966, the guy embarks from Kennedy Airport and landed at Heathrow, London, next morning. He's stopped at customs because he has not a work permission. He get in touch with the London scene and give birth to Experience. Four years scarce, between arguments, anger and band changes, four albums produced, until the his still obscure death, on September 18, 1970, almost four years after his first landing in London. Jimi, on the horseback of his Fender Stratocaster, was able to fly over the sky. The way to play guitar hasn't been the same in rock music.

Talent deliver a musician to immortality. Somehow, I think the threads which bind him to his origins are broken. An artist belongs to everyone and becomes universal, despite the fact everyone, as a human being, tries to remain faithful to their origins and often he/she refers to them when ground begins to burn under their feet. A turbulent and elusive existence goes forward a slim balance between success and personal life. This can make us understand excesses and vices. This balance is a fragile and often is enemy of the art. So, Is he a musician a sort of lay monk who sacrifices himself on the altar of music? Rhetoric, emphasis, words, better, bombast. There are so many artists who have made the balance their solid foundation of their work and life. But those who, in a short time, have written their names indelibly and have flown to a better luck, will have a special place in our hearts. Those who, in one way or another, have "sacrificed" themselves. They are cursed artists and in their madness there's all the meaning of existence. Pardoned and unlucky, balanced and unbalanced, as far as I was concerned, as he/she sang, I loved them all.                  

It's impossible quantifying musical and artistic heritage. We could venture into lists of albums, artists, but we wouldn't finish. Have those years changed the world? I'd say they do it, but not in an institutional sense. Maybe, as I wrote at the beginning, lives of many people would have been different, those people would be other people. What's left? Well, just music.




© ENRICO MATTIOLI 2017



© Enrico Mattioli 2017