Chuck Berry, Chuck Barris

The Sue Henry Show
March 22, 2017 - 9:25 pm

     In a span of three days, two guys with similar names in the field of show business went to that great stage in the sky. Both gave many of us hours of precious escapism.

     Chuck Berry channeled teen feelings into catchy, guitar driven rock and roll anthems that provided the young people of the 1950s a relatable rebel. There he is, mussing up Beethoven’s powdered wig sensibilities, studying hard and hopin’ to pass during his school days and joining all the “cats” (I love that one) who wish to dance with sweet little sixteen. It was this endearing string of hits that not only endeared Berry to the kids with the pompadours, but also to the mop tops in Britain and the immortal Keith Richards, who once again must have pinched himself the other day to discover he was still indeed alive when he heard the news his hero had died.

     Surprisingly, my first recollection of Chuck Berry revolved around his only number one hit in America. My dad and mom, both members of the class of 1958 from rival Scranton high schools, would gather with other appropriately aged neighbors for streamside picnicking in my hometown of Fleetville. As the caravan pulled out of the old swimming spot, the guy in front of my dad yelled out the window for him to put on the radio and hear a song that was making him hysterical with laughter. It was Berry’s tune, “My Ding A Ling,” that had those teens from the 50s giggling all over again.

     In 1986, I was with friends in the F.M. Kirby Center when they welcomed their first “rock and roll” act to the stage of the rejuvenated venue. Out strolled Chuck Berry, duck walking on the boards and playing with some pickup band that must have been grinning from ear to ear to share the stage with one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It may not have been the most buttoned up show of all time, but it was an experience I’m sure everyone in that theater who’s still around relayed to someone over the past few days.

     The second loss came with the passing of the joyful jester known as Chuck Barris. Without his marvelous vision, television would have never had “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” or “The Gong Show.” When I assemble the WILK Comment Line every day, I believe Barris’ spirit is in there somewhere.

     Sometimes, something is so bad, it’s good.  That’s the overwhelming emotion I felt today when we watched clips of a joyful Barris on stage, introducing the Unknown Comic, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and the First Lady of Frivolity, Jaye P. Morgan. Although we only had four channels at my house, you can bet your life we were watching the one that featured “The Gong Show.” This kind of edgy, ridiculous and borderline tasteless entertainment shaped my brother and me into the absurdists we are to this day.

     Rest easy, Chucks. Hopefully, there are some clever and creative upstarts ready to fill the void.      

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