Surfing the wild, wild Web, I came upon Chuck Berry on YouTube. I watched for hours. The man is extraordinary. In case you don't know, he's a singer, composer and guitarist: aka, "the father of rock and roll." He's 84 now.
I once saw him in Toronto, sort of. He topped a stellar bill at an all-day concert that was to feature Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, possibly the Four Seasons and a host of other great musicians that I can't quite remember. The venue was the Skydome, a baseball stadium, with the concrete roof closed. The music was echoey and the musicians so far away--a baseball field away and then some--that you could only watch proceedings on giant screens.
I was in my 30s. Everyone else in the building was well over 60, which made the whole thing like an endless Twilight Zone episode, with opener Bo Diddley as Rod Sterling. Presented for our consideration, Bo delivered an outer-space mood set that wasn't even remotely Diddley.
Late into the evening, Jerry Lee cancelled with the flu--well he would, wouldn't he?--which meant next up, top of the bill: Chuck Berry. A lengthy, lengthy pause ensued, and then out he came. He was pretty good. You didn't need to look at a screen to know it was Chuckers B. He wore flared trousers, even though the '90s were just around the corner at the time. I bet he still wears them.
Chuck Berry has lasted at the top longer than did Shakespeare (in his lifetime) or Johnny Carson or Mick Jagger, and Sir Mick is 147 years old. OK, Chuck did time for a spot of perversion, but then let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
I throw all this in among the risk stuff because I greatly admire Chuck Berry's business style. He didn't keep his own musicians, just picked up whoever was available near the gig, told them what to play and hugged the spotlight. He always knew the right notes, usually. Best of all, he never went on without getting paid first. Never. He was a complete professional who never missed a show. Wait, he failed to appear at another gig of his that I attended. Let's say: this being rock 'n' roll, Chuck Berry was likelier than most to appear as billed.
I have adopted all of Chuck's business ways, except for the flares and the cash in advance. I, too, travel to new places, pick up from scratch with a team of pros and get the job done, sometimes for a huge amount of money (more Chuck than me). He and I work alone, but we couldn't do it alone. We are people who need people. Well, I'm more of a person who needs e-mail.
I'm not saying I'm as good as Chuck Berry. He's a legendary genius who defined a genre; I work with insurance people. But could Chuck Berry do what I do? Think about that for a moment. He probably doesn't even know what a CDS is, but then nor does anyone else. Bad example. I doubt he's heard of the Bermuda Marine Assurance Co. Ltd., founded in 1784, unless he happened to buy insurance from them before they went out of business in 1811.
I share Chuck Berry's passion, and I can prove it. I write to you today despite a Stygian bout of food poisoning. I remain in its grip, on the abyss.
ROGER CROMBIE is a London-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
February 1, 2011
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