April 30, 2013

Trivia Blog: Make Like a Historical Inaccuracy, and Get Outta Here

These Trivia Blog posts come from the emails I send out as Quizmaster of the Gael Pub Trivia Night every Tuesday.  But seeing as how they comprise most of the writing I seem to do these days, I thought it fitting to include them on the Pale Writer blog as well.  I won't include things like info about categories or drink specials, but will keep the bulk of the rest.  Hopefully you enjoy, so much so that you come out some Tuesday at 8:30 (3rd Ave. b/t 82nd and 83rd)...

This is heavy, Doc…

Strap in for a long one, folks. So last week, one of you fine groups of triviagoers used 1.21 Gigawatts as your trivia team name, which as we all know is the electrical power required for the flux capacitor to function properly, which is what makes time travel possible in the absolutely amazeballs movie Back to the Future. It led me to absentmindedly click through a couple clips on YouTube later that week, one of which was the famous scene where Marty plays Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” at his parents’ Enchantment Under the Sea high school dance.

Great scene, despite A) Michael J. Fox’s not-even-remotely-in-sync lip syncing and B) the fact that none of the dance attendees were ever seriously bothered by the fact that a song they heard performed by a skinny white kid at their school dance became a major hit for a pompadoured black man three years later, or at least not enough to publicly discredit Berry as a thief. But I digress…

A couple thoughts occurred to me, watching that scene, that I can’t begin to find answers for, and they’ve almost ruined Back to the Future for me as a result. I’ve written a lot of these trivia emails at this point, and by now you all know I’d never think of ruining a classic movie for anyone else, but someone please explain these three things to me:

1) When Chuck Berry’s cousin Marvin (“Marvin BERRY!” By the way, who uses their last name when calling a family member who shares the same last name?) calls Chuck and lets him listen in on that new sound he’s been looking for, Marty is already well into the song. So far into it, in fact, that he’s past any actual part of “Johnny B. Goode,” including lyrics, and has started his crazy, Van Halen-ish guitar solo that sounds nothing at all like the original song. Yet somehow, through this one brief snippet of a probably-not-very-clear phone call, Chuck Berry is able to completely reverse-engineer “Johnny B. Goode” and put it out, word for word, note for note, three years later. How is this possible??

2) Why would Marvin Berry just give “Johnny B. Goode” to his cousin Chuck? Marvin and his band, The Starlighters, were clearly not doing all that well. There they were, playing high school dances for a bunch of suburban white kids, taking the occasional break to smoke some reefer out back and have racial taunts hurled at them by the worst of said suburban white kids. Judging by A) their ability to pick up on the backing music for “Johnny B. Goode” in less than 10 seconds and B) their prowess at performing a pretty good version of “Earth Angel,” they seemed to at least possess the talent to make a run at the pop charts. All they needed was that one big song, that one big break, and they’d be the next Four Tops. And yet, when presented with the chance to take this kid’s song and make a run at a record contract, Marvin instead calls his do-nothing cousin Chuck and just gives it away! What the fuck?? Which leads me to my third question…

3) What in Christ’s name did Chuck Berry do for his cousin that warranted Marvin handing over a megahit song that could’ve changed The Starlighters’ lives forever? Did he pull Marvin’s family from a fire and Marvin feels indebted to him or something noble like that? Or was it something more insidious, like Chuck once witnessed Marvin gun a man down over a poker game, and Chuck helped him bury the body in the desert?


It makes me wonder how many other promising young artists have had their dreams of rockstardom crushed by Marvin Berry. One year they’re debuting their new song “Roll Over Beethoven” at Midland High’s ‘Neath the Starry Skies dance, backed by The Starlighters, the next year Chuck fucking Berry’s singing it on the radio. So many questions, so few answers…

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