Chuck Berry's Thoughts on Punk and New Wave in 1980


In 1985, some friends and I drove from my hometown, Springfield, Ill., to St. Louis, as we often did, to see a show. We went to see Hüsker Dü, who had just released Flip Your Wig, their last album on SST Records before signing with Warner Bros. The opening band was someone we had never heard of: Soul Asylum.

To cut to the chase, while we were at the show, a friend of mine casually asked if I had hobnobbed with Chuck Berry yet. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he pointed at a guy sitting at a table with a very young blonde about 25 feet away. It was Chuck Berry.

I went over and met him, shook hands (given information that later came out about Chuck's sexual proclivities, eeeew!), and had him sign my freshly bought Hüsker Dü T-shirt. That shirt, with Chuck's signature along with a big smiley face, has been a treasured possession of mine ever since.

While it was totally odd to meet Berry at a Hüsker Dü show, even in his hometown of St. Louis, I have a feeling I know why he was there. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had run a preview of the show that called Hüsker Dü — and I'm paraphrasing here — the future of rock 'n' roll. So it makes sense that one of the guys who invented the whole thing would want to hear what the younger charges were doing with it in those days.

I guess Chuck didn't approve, as he got up and left after the first few songs.

Many years later I met Bob Mould in Portland, Ore., and asked him if he remembered that night. Not only did he remember it, he said the band not only knew Berry was there, but that they could feel him staring daggers through them throughout their whole set. I didn't have the heart to tell him Berry had made an early exit.

This is all a very long introduction to an article I read this week which dug up an old piece from Jet Lag, a St. Louis zine (probably the first zine I ever read) that existed throughout the '80s and into the '90s, in which Berry is asked to comment on some of the music of the day (i.e., punk and new wave stuff). You can read it here, and be sure to check out the comments section, if only for the excerpts of a similar piece done in Rolling Stone on Stephen Stills' take on some of the same music. Berry's "this is nothing new" stance trumps Stills' curmudgeonly assessments, but both make for an entertaining read.

For example, the two artists' take on the Ramones' "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker":

Berry: "A good little jump number. These guys remind me of myself when I first started, I only knew three chords too."

Stills: "This is that punk shit everyone’s going nuts over? Sounds like four 6-year-olds picking up instruments for the first time. This sucks."