Sunday, 14 May 2017

Send More Chuck Berry

"Wonderful Woman," by Chuck Berry
Right now I'm reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson. As a retired person, I'm not generally in a hurry about anything. (As an older person, I might be in a hurry to get more things figured out while school's still in.) But with a title like that, the book had to be an attempt to explain complicated things even to slower-moving dopes like me. So I bought it.

So far so good. Mr. Tyson's voice gets a bit cutesy at times, but it's also very funny and very lucid, and I'm understanding stuff I sort of knew and sort of learning new stuff that I definitely didn't know. But what's a dope gonna do?

Here's my favourite part so far: "Pioneer [a space probe engineered to escape the solar system] wore a golden etched plaque that showed, in scientific pictograms, the layout of our solar system, our location in the Milky Way galaxy, and the structure of the hydrogen atom. Voyager [another space probe engineered to escape the solar system] went further and also included a gold record album containing diverse sounds from mother Earth, including the human heartbeat, whale 'songs,' and musical selections from around the world, including the works of Beethoven and Chuck Berry. While this humanized the message, it's not clear whether alien ears would have a clue what they were listening to -- assuming they have ears in the first place. My favorite parody of this gesture was a skit on NBC's Saturday Night Live, shortly after the Voyager launch, in which they showed a written reply from the aliens who recovered the spacecraft. The note simply requested, 'Send more Chuck Berry.'"

Chuck Berry isn't here anymore, but his music is still moving through our part of the universe. "Wonderful Woman" is the single off an upcoming collection called Chuck, his first album in many, many years. You listen to it and you feel all the eruptive elements of deep gratitude: for, the existence or non-existence of aurally able aliens notwithstanding, the fact that at least you have ears; for the part of your brain that understands poetry; for the hair on your body that gets raised by the acute electricity of amplified guitars (Mr. Berry has a partner, and that partner fits his partner); for the ability of your feet and hands to respond to clanging, slapping, splatting percussive actions by other human bodies; for the permanence of genius.

Not bad for any five-minute chunk of cosmic time.

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