Happy Birthday Mr. Berry

I’ve been thinking a lot about Chuck Berry in the weeks leading up to his 90th birthday.

It started when I happened to see the documentary/concert film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, recently. The all star concert (and contentious backstage interview segments) filmed in St.Louis just days before the subject’s 60th birthday.

I was reminded how, upon seeing the film when it was initially released, it felt like artists paying tribute to a legend by giving him a send-off into the golden age of retirement. It also felt like Chuck was having none of it!

Then they released a vinyl copy of the Voyager “golden record“, the Space Bound compilation to the cosmos, including Chuck’s Johnny B. Goode.

Then the articles started showing up in my newsfeed. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Esquire magazine paying tribute to one of the greatest pioneers of rock and roll music.

Today, my social media pages are full of well wishes for Mr. Berry from former students like Mick Jagger and little Steven Van Zandt.

For my part today I am going to break out my copy of The Great Twenty-eight, the phenomenal compilation of Chuck’s 1955 to 1965 recordings for Chess Records.

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So happy birthday Chuck Berry, we couldn’t have done it without you!

PS… today, on Chuck Berry’s website, he announced that he would be releasing a new album in the coming year… his first since 1979!

PSS… just heard the news that Phil Chess, one of those most instrumental in getting Chuck’s music out to the world, passed away Tuesday at the age of 95. RIP Mr. Chess!

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Cirque du So-Love

I had previously written a post about the remixed remastered reimagined versions of Beatles songs that were the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil production of Love.

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My wife had seen the production on a previous trip to Las Vegas. She had never really been a Beatles fan, but came back singing the praises of both the show and the music.

We recently had occasion, owing to a family wedding, to visit Las Vegas and Love was on our to-do list.

The specialty theater was near capacity on the Thursday evening we visited the Mirage casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sheer curtains trisected the stage and cables, ropes and ladders hung ominously over the black void just one row and one isle away.

Incidental music, while people were coming and going toward their seats, was familiar Beatles, but in instrumental form. The ushers expertly guided lost zombies to their proper rows, the lights dimmed and the fog machines started running full tilt. Characters emerged from somewhere off stage and hastened us all to welcome the production.

As the lights came down the experience begins with the familiar tones of the song Because. Actually it was just the familiar and lyrics, these were stripped bare of the music we’d all been accustomed to and really set the stage for the remainder of the production.

For the next 90 minutes dancers, acrobats, magicians and contortionists filled the stage, and the sky above, with one interpretation after another the 60s seen through the lens of this reimagined Beatles music.

As a Beatles fan, it was fun to try to pick out characters from their songs and other more obscure references about the band in the production. Of course Sergeant Pepper played a recurring role, as did Father McKenzie, the girl from She’s Leaving Home, Eleanor Rigby and Jude.

Many of the props reflected icons from the Beatle years, especially prominent items and characters from Yellow Submarine. Several Volkswagen Beetles were featured and at least one had a license plate that read LMW 28IF.

The show was fantastic and these little details made it especially thrilling for a Beatles fan. If I had it to do over again I think I would try to relax a little bit and not attempt to be a know-it-all… a Beatles who’s who scorekeeper as the thing was going on. There was a certain Wizard of Oz, pull the curtain back, attempt on my part, just trying to figure out how everything worked. It was a little like going to a magic show and trying to decipher the illusion rather than letting yourself get caught up in the moment.

In doing so I totally missed some of the more subtle experiences; the bubbles used in the Strawberry Fields segment smelled like strawberry for instance…

The bottom line is I would highly recommend this show to anyone who happens to find themselves in Las Vegas. Love has been presented in this theater twice a night for over 10 years now… who knows how much longer it will be in production?

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Ps… while in the Las Vegas area, armed with a car and some time on my hands, I hit up a few thrift stores looking for vintage vinyl. I managed to score a couple dozen mid fifties to early sixties Jazz records. I’ll likely blog about the cream-of-the-crop some other time but had an interesting experience with our TSA security trying to get them home. I got pulled out of security line and had to explain the odd image on the X-ray machine in my carry-on bag:

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Lucky for me the TSA agent was an old guy so he knew what a vinyl record actually was!