THAT GUY #1: The Chuck Berry Reference in “Back To The Future”

Marty McFly duckwalking his way through “Johnny B. Goode” at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance might be the greatest movie rock and roll performance of all time. There’s so much to enjoy in the scene….except there’s just one little, teensy-weensy detail which I will now point out because today I’m being THAT GUY.

I’m referring, of course, to when the lead guitar player Marvin Berry calls his cousin, who doesn’t at first recognize him (very plausible for the many-Marvin 1950’s) and exposes him to “that new sound” he’d been looking for. A 2017 Forbes article by Allen St. John, written after Berry’s death, points out the obvious problem: the implication that Berry ripped off his signature riff from a white suburban teenager. “A backhanded compliment at best,” St. John wrote.

St. John also wrote: “Now BTTF is a time travel movie and if you start thinking too much about layers of who learned what from whom and when, it’ll give you a migraine.”

Which is where, as THAT GUY, I sharply disagree with St. John’s assessment of what constitutes migraine thinking. For example, washing the dishes while your two year-old listens to “Let It Go” on repeat, while ALSO playing with an Elsa doll that sings “Let It Go”…now that is a recipe for a migraine. This shouldn’t even come close to a headache.

The main problem, aside from the “diss,” is the Space-time continuum theory that Dr. Emmet Brown so eloquently described to Marty when he first arrived in 1955. According to this theory, it simply isn’t possible that Chuck Berry got his inspiration from the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, as opposed to T-Bone Walker. “Great Scott!” Doc Brown might exclaim, at the very notion that a phone call from Berry’s cousin Marvin provided the spark of innovation (as opposed to years of honing his trademark riffs in St. Louis clubs playing, as Berry himself called it, “hill-billy rock” — blues and country and teenage Americana whipped together like a milkshake).

So here’s the part St. John, who likely has not heard “Let It Go” more than 10,000 times, claims would cause a migraine. BTTF Part One basically features two timelines. The Loser McFly and The Winner McFly, which begins in the “second” 1955, after George McFly knocks out Biff. (The first 1955 being when George is hit by Lorraine’s father’s car.) The Loser McFly timeline features “the first” 1985, with a Loser Marty learning to play guitar and in doing so, listening to classic songs like “Maybellene”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, and “Rock and Roll Music”. Loser Marty basically steeped himself in, as Dylan referred to Berry, “the Shakespeare of rock and roll.”

Loser Marty could not have been steeping himself in music that originated from the guitar of his future self: Winner Marty. He hadn’t traveled back in time yet. Only the entire universe would be destroyed if he did. So where did Loser Marty really pick up that riff? Not from himself, which might represent some form of rock song inspirational DNA being passed along through an incestuous space time continuum of masturbation.

It’s that simple. Now it might…MIGHT approach a slight headache if we were to discuss how rock and roll music itself might be radically different in the new, Winner McFly 1985; or how Loser Marty could travel back to 1955, then “Back To The Future”, and just take his place at the breakfast table in an altered space time continuum (as evidence by the Winner McFly house etc.). Like didn’t the Winner George and Winner Lorraine McFly have intercourse and reproduce a new Winner Marty, that would have had an entirely different upbringing that might not have led to a crippling loser McFly self-doubt that could be channeled into learning guitar riffs? If the BTTF writers were really following all the plot lines, there should have been some type of Marty confrontation: the Loser/Winner Marty vs. New Marty, the offspring of the Winner McFlys. And then, at the end of BTTF Part One, when Doc Brown flies to the new 1985 from new 2015, what if he encounters New Marty, that has never met Doc Brown because he has spent his childhood in advanced, scholastic, gifted after-school and summer programs? The entire trilogy would need to be rewritten…

I guess I could see how that last paragraph might be approaching the area of thinking that might, sort of, give you a headache. This is probably too long for a blog anyway. I guess St. John was right. I just, you know, thought someone should point out the discrepancy. I didn’t want to do it myself. So I adopted this convenient new alter ego. Don’t blame me. Blame THAT GUY.

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