Thursday, September 15, 2016

Back to the Groundhog

A Chuck Berry song came on the radio today...

...because of course I listen to the kind of radio stations that play Chuck Berry (yay, SiriusXM 50s on 5!)...

...and I had a thought.

I want one of these, about three feet tall and
literally wired into my brain.
The thought was about one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies.

The movie is Back to the Future.

Does your teenage daughter own this poster?
Mine does. She's cool like that.
The scene is near the end of the movie, when Marty McFly, having successfully ensured his parents would marry despite his frankly inept efforts to avoid destroying the space-time continuum, breaks out a rockin' version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" that stuns his pre-rock and roll audience into silence. While he's tearing it up onstage, his bandmate, MARVIN BERRY, phones his cousin, CHUCK, and says to him, "You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to THIS."

Thus Marty McFly invented rock and roll.

It got a big laugh in 1985 the time(s) I saw the movie in the theatre. And it's still funny. But today, it occurred to me that there's a whole other layer of meaning to this scene.

Basically, Marty McFly is trapped in a horrific Groundhog Day-style temporal nightmare.

Why do I always hear "I Got You, Babe" at exactly 6:00 a.m.?
Hear me out.

The implication of the "Enchantment Under the Sea" scene in Back to the Future is that Marvin Berry gives his cousin Chuck the inspiration for his legendary sound by exposing him to a performance of "Johnny B. Goode" before anyone has ever heard it. Right?

This suggests that Chuck Berry's distinctive, profoundly influential style would not have existed unless a time-traveling white boy had introduced him to it.

First of all, how insulting is that to the legacy of one of the main architects of R&B and rock, who developed his sound in St. Louis and Chicago in the 40s and early 50s, to suggest that he owed it all to (and ripped it off from) some middle-class white kid from 1980s SoCal?

Standard blues riff in B, watch me for the changes,
and try to keep up, OK?
I'm pretty sure that message would not McFly in 21st-century popular culture. 


But even more to the point, how would Marty know "Johnny B. Goode" if he hadn't introduced it to Chuck and the world in 1955?

Chuck Berry was a legend in 1985. Of course an aspiring musician like Marty McFly would know his most famous tunes.

But if Chuck didn't play his signature style until Marty played it for him, then how did Marty know  about it before he traveled back to 1955...when he gave Chuck the idea?

Obviously, Marty McFly is stuck in a time loop, just like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.

I mean, think about it.

How could Marty be familiar with Chuck's music unless he had at some point heard those iconic riffs in a past timeline and then gifted them to Chuck when he was stuck in 1955?

The only other explanation is that Chuck Berry developed his style himself, as history suggests he did, in the early 1950s. In which case, the seniors of Hill Valley High School would not have been stunned into silence when Marty played "Johnny B. Goode." 

Geez, you guys. Mary McFly created a temporal clusterfuck when he dared to suggest that "Johnny B. Goode" was too advanced for his white-bread audience.

He's been stuck in a time-loop for 61 years now, going back and forth between the post-rock 1980s and the pre-rock 1950s, the unwitting (and unwilling?) emissary of rock between generations.

Where is he even?

Is he learning to play the piano a la Phil? Is discovering how to woo his sweetheart through hundreds or thousands of trials and error?

Or is he just setting up two sequels?

Think about it, Drunkards.

Let me know how you feel on this subject.

Because I'm totally not down with cheating Chuck Berry out of his legacy.

If you have a better explanation for how the ending of Back to the Future went down, please let me know.


1 comment:

  1. I don't have a better explanation but that's not the only time loop Marty created. There's one that's less racist but from a physics standpoint potentially worse.
    Remember that Marty returns to 1985 a few minutes early--before he left. He even sees himself, and that self is going to return a few minutes early. That moment is going to repeat endlessly.
    It gets worse.
    Is he seeing the same Marty or is he seeing a Marty who grew up in a house where his father was a successful writer and Biff a mere car cleaner?
    And either way is that second Marty going to do the same things or could he change the future in other ways? What if every Marty does things even slightly differently? There would be a cascade of alternate realities. The very nature of reality would fracture.
    Or Marty McFly inadvertently invented the multiverse.

    I think I need to go lie down.


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