You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

Did Chuck Berry steal his own song from Marty McFly?


“Chuck! Chuck, it’s Marvin … Your cousin, Marvin Berry? You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this!”

And thus it is suggested that Chuck Berry, the musical maverick who finished his earthly gig on Saturday, did not so much help construct rock and roll out of rhythm and blues, country and his own genius, as much as he stole it from a kid he heard play over the phone.

This line, a presumable and admittedly goofy throw-away from 1985’s “Back To The Future,” has always confounded me because it proposes a history-bending fact — that time-traveling teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who has come to 1955’s Enchantment Under The Sea dance to ensure that his parents meet and fall in love so that he exists, sits in for guitarist Marvin Berry, whose hand is injured. While sitting in, he plays Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” including explosive electric guitar riff.

Musician Chuck Berry dead at 90

This riff inspires Marvin, who until this point is just the dude with the bandaged hand whose injuries almost dash Marty’s plans, to call his cousin and announce that he’d found his new sound. And that always bugged me, not only because it blithely suggests that Berry isn’t responsible for his own creation, but creates a whole space-time continuum situation where, because Marty was covering a song that Berry wrote in another timeline, he’s actually stealing from himself. And now there’s math and science involved, and I went into entertainment journalism so I would not have to deal with math and science, so now my head hurts from thinking too much about it.

In the immortal words of Biff Tannen, think, McFly!

Because entertainment and pop-culture reporters are known for making cultural mountains out of molehills, I am not the first of my kind to ruminate on what is honestly a really silly but tantalizing proposition. Noted satirical site The Onion wrote a hilarious brief titled Chuck Berry Remembers Call From Cousin About White Kid Playing ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ which winks at the absurdity of stealing from oneself, but also acknowledges the probably unintentional suggestion that a black man widely credited for helping create rock was ever so stuck for inspiration that he up and stole it from some random white kid. That, of course, plays into the whole cultural appropriation question, and now Elvis and Pat Boone are involved, and what about Ike Turner’s seminal 1951 “Rocket 88?” Did Chuck go back in time and steal from Ike, only to have Marty McFly steal from him? Now my head hurts again.

And Overthinking It, a proudly nitpicky site that has over-analyzed everything from the legal outcome of every “Law and Order” case to whether Olympic rules strictly prohibit the golden retriever athlete star of the “Air Bud” series from competing, wrote an appropriately detailed story proving that even if Chuck Berry wanted to steal “Johnny B. Goode” from McFly, who was stealing from him, Marvin called him too late in the song for it to have made a difference. (Man, I love people who are bigger pop culture nerds than me. And I’m writing this story, so you know my dorkiness is impressive.)

“Back To The Future” isn’t the only movie to suggest comically that a rock genius borrowed one of their best ideas from some unwitting stranger - according to “Forrest Gump,” John Lennon cribbed the opening verse of “Imagine” from some happy idiot talking about playing ping-pong in China on “The Dick Cavett Show.” These things are, again, throw-away and somewhat cutesy attempts to tie a fictional character in their time and place, and they work because they’re written to trigger a recognition in the viewer, who’s sitting in the theater going “Wait… ‘No possessions? And no religion, too?’ I KNOW THAT SONG!”

And as for Marvin Berry, whose signature line is gloriously obvious that my husband and I used to quote it every time we saw clunky and lazy exposition in a movie or TV show (“Wait, maybe the murderer is my cousin Marvin! Marvin Berry!”)? I’m sure that in the end, that was director and co-screenwriter Robert Zemeckis’s acknowledgment of the timeliness of “Johnny B. Goode,” and of Chuck Berry, which was so influential that it was the go-to song for a kid who supposedly heard it 30 years later. And more than 30 years later, we’re still talking about it.

That’s what good art does, makes you talk about it. Even if it’s silly.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community

A walk in the woods turns a little wild

When you live two blocks from U.S. 1 in Palm Beach County and someone mentions wildlife, the local nightclubs probably come to mind. Wild animals? Those are probably the patrons of those establishments. But thanks to a nine-figure bond issue to buy conservation land passed by county taxpayers many years ago, it’s possible to see a different wildlife...
Plans this weekend? Try Art of the Brew Beerfest in Northwood Village
Plans this weekend? Try Art of the Brew Beerfest in Northwood Village

Looking for something to do this Saturday? Our local, ‘hipster district’, Northwood, is having a craft beer event for all you hop lovers out there.  The Art of Brew Beerfest will feature beers, ciders and kombucha from 25+ local and national breweries. So get ready to sample your hearts out. Local favorites like ...
What rock singer is tired of people thinking West Palm is all Trump?
What rock singer is tired of people thinking West Palm is all Trump?

The band Surfer Blood started here. All of its members are one-time students of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts. So, they know West Palm Beach. And they are tired of the city and county being defined exclusively in terms of President Trump. RELATED: THE POST’S COMPLETE TRUMP COVERAGE “I can’t stand seeing every New York Times article...
Comedian Bill Cosby reveals he is totally blind
Comedian Bill Cosby reveals he is totally blind

Comedian Bill Cosby said he is completely blind, USA Today reported. >> Read more trending news In his first interview in two years, Cosby told the National Newspaper Publishers Association news service that he woke up one morning two years ago and told his wife, Camille, “I can't see.” Cosby was later told by doctors that...
Beatles’ rare outtake from ‘Sgt. Pepper’ sessions released
Beatles’ rare outtake from ‘Sgt. Pepper’ sessions released

It was 50 years ago today … Well, almost. As the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album draws near, Capitol Records is sharing an unreleased outtake from the band’s recording sessions. >> Read more trending news The disc, ranked No. 1 in Rolling Stone’s survey...
More Stories