Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Music: Jerry Lee Lewis: Live at the Star Club Hamburg

"Live" at the Star Club, Hamburg with the Nashville Teens


Like the collection of writings comprising the Bible, Rock & Roll music has been analyzed, reanalyzed, passed through every cultural prism, deified, vilified, praised, condemned, murdered, reborn, and every other verb any desperate, half-rate, consumptive writer could invent. But the question remains, “What is Rock & Roll?"

Sometimes it takes a recorded document, a concert or reading taped and distributed, to refocus the culture on the temperament of Rock & Roll. Certainly it can be argued that two prime motivators of the music are hubris and anger. While not the entire psychology, angst has certainly been one of the primal forces in the music. Draped as disappointment, defiance, impatience, offence, or simple madness, add to that wounded ego, manifesting the result in live performance and one can hear rage as a primal feeling.

If there were ever a recording that encompassed this emotional universe, simply yelling, "Fuck You!" at the listeners, then and now, it is Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club, Hamburg.

Here is how critic Milo Miles described the recording in Rolling Stone in 2002:

"Live At The Star Club, Hamburg" is not an album, it's a crime scene: Jerry Lee Lewis slaughters his rivals in a thirteen-song set that feels like one long convulsion.

The firebombing of Dresden is more like it.

As the Killer took that German stage on April 4, 1964, he proved absolutely no regard for anything other than his own unjustly unacknowledged greatness: the audience, the band, competing artists, and most of all we listeners 40 years on were of no concern to him. On the stage previously conquered by the Beatles, Lewis rolled his tongue, splayed a white-trash arpeggio, hummed the key, and detonated a 10,000 kilogram “Mean Woman Blues” at twice the tempo his British back-up band expected. The crowd joined in sing-along immediately as Lewis proceeded to lament his difficult lover and pound his piano with ball peen hammers.

Lewis sneered, mocking, chanted his name with the crowd, sarcastically praised his performance confines and played the most elemental Rock and Roll, while at the same time delivering his Das wohltemperirte Clavier of Louisiana boogie-woogie piano. The killer was clearly tired of the European press and his own exile from American radio that occurred after his infamous marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, in 1957. Lewis took on every contemporary competitor in his 13-song set: Carl Perkins with “Matchbox,” Ray Charles with “What’d I Say,” Little Richard with “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and finally Elvis with his own “Hound Dog,” Lewis proved with fire that he is the King and no one else.

Whether this concert was the culmination of all of Jerry Lee Lewis’s frustration or just the Killer on a typical night in the mid-‘60s (a frightening thought to be sure), Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club, Hamburg demands inclusion on any list of the most important live recordings.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006