Chuck Berry Taught Me How To Be An American

For the author, the child of an immigrant, the discovery of Berry's songs — two decades after they were recorded — decoded the meaning of American youth culture.
Chuck Berry performs onstage at London's Rainbow Theatre in 1973. Source: Fin Costello

I was an immigrant's kid growing up in the 1970s in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York. From an early age I learned that because I carried this weird name and my family ate, dressed and worshipped differently than most of my neighbors, being fluent in American popular culture connected me with others — especially the neighborhood boys who often ignored and sometimes threatened me. So I devoured everything I could find about baseball and watched an unhealthy amount of television.

But music frustrated me. I had little access to the major currents of American popular music until I was almost into my teens.

My folks were not big on recorded music. My father, a scientist, had come from India and never expressed interest in music of any kind. My American-born mother played a few guitar chords and sang some folk songs. Neither listened to the radio in the car or home. I only knew the performers who appeared on television: Glen Campbell; Sonny and Cher; the Jackson Five and the cast and guests of Hee

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