Wednesday, February 20, 2019


I remember distinctly how I got into music. Rock and Roll, to be exact. It’s nothing unique, in fact a lot of people I’ve talked to have had similar experiences. Maybe you did too.

I was seven or eight and my mother took me to see a new movie called Back to the Future. And if you’re from my generation and if you love movies, you know what scene I’m about to describe.

Michael J. Fox’ character Marty McFly is a typical 1980’s American teen who is accidentally thrown back in time to the 1950’s, before the “invention” of Rock and Roll. There, he performs Johnny B. Goode onstage and the song somehow makes its way to Chuck Berry who records the song and releases it, unleashing a new sound into the culture.

The joke gets even tastier for us rock nerds: the audience watching the performance starts dancing and going nuts for that wild, swinging sound. And the crazier the audience gets, the more confident and the crazier Marty gets. And he starts incorporating every trick he knows from being an 80’s guitar playing kid: Pete Townshend-trademarked windmills power chords, Van Halen-style finger tapping, feedback, shredding runs etc… Thus losing the audience by being literally thirty years ahead of them.

It took me years to appreciate the humour of that scene. At eight I obviously had no context, no culture. I didn’t understand why it was funny, and I actually didn’t find it all that funny. I just found it extremely cool.

It was something I had never heard or seen before: it was loud, it was aggressive, it had a frantic beat and an extremely cool chord progression which I was too young to know as a classic 12-bar blues… the guy had an extremely cool looking guitar and most of all it made all the girls in the audience go wild.

Now this is where it gets meta: my gateway to rock music was this old song by Chuck Berry. I discovered Rock and Roll through one of its originators in 1985. I literally traveled back in time 30 years to start my musical journey at the very beginning, however fictionalised.

Not only that but just like the teenagers of the 50’s getting into rock and roll by watching Jailhouse Rock, or just like the kids in the 60’s contracting Beatlemania from watching A Hard Day’s Night, my musical education was through the silver screen.

In fact this is something that would carry on for many years after: I discovered the Beach Boys by watching Teen Wolf, the Rolling Stones by watching Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Beatles (and the Isley Brothers!) by watching Ferris Bueler’s Day Off. Most of my musical awakening happened at the movies, which might be why I love cinematic songs and theatrical bands.

Back To The Future is pretty dated today. It’s inevitable when a movie is so of its time. About its time. But it still works, obsolete technology and all. What hasn’t aged at all is that song. Johnny Be Goode still sounds as fresh today as it did in the 80’s and 50’s.

This will never go out of style: you might dress it up a little differently, but an overdriven guitar playing a I-IV-V over a backbeat will always work. It will always get a kid to dance, or pick up a guitar, or buy a record, or check out a concert, or even, Clapton forbid, start a music blog.

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