NPR

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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR5 min readPolitics
Misery Grows At Syrian Camp Holding ISIS Family Members
In recent visits to the camp, NPR was told of babies dying of malnutrition, and found women collapsed by roadsides. "There's a lack of supplies and the numbers of patients are huge," a doctor says.
NPR5 min read
As Employment Rises, African American Transplants Ride Jobs Wave To The South
At a time of low unemployment for African Americans, educated, well-connected professionals are starting new lives in cities such as Charlotte, N.C.
NPR2 min read
American Man Achieves Dream By Reaching Mount Everest Summit, Then Dies
Donald Lynn Cash of Utah achieved his goal of climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. A traffic jam on Mount Everest may have impeded efforts to carry him down the mountain before he died.