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Who do you love?

Leave it to the WashPost, in particular their Express birdcage liner that’s handed out free at Metro stops, to completely and utterly miss the point of the legacy of Bo Diddley.  The generic, vaguely respectful footnote-style obit noted all of the superficial aspects and failed to capture what we have lost in our soul by not having him with us.

Bo Diddley was much more than a rock ‘n’ roller with a funny guitar – it was he and Chuck Berry that pretty much invented the genre, taking a backup instrument and turning it into the centerpiece of what was not only a new style of music, but a new cultural revolution.  Every brat who’s wanted to make noise in a basement ever since the 1950s…every disaffected youth or sub-working-class dreckarbeiter or borderline criminal who’s had it with the Man, with Whitey, with society, or with whatever the hell you’ve got and escapes it by picking up a guitar owes it all to those two men.

But there was a difference in them.  Chuck played the stuff that teeners “knew” really mattered:  girls, cars, parties, drive-ins, and parking by the lake.  Even though it was met with withering disapproval from the adults of the day, it was almost an expected, wholesome part of just growing up.  Kids were gonna act up sometimes, and Chuck Berry spoke to that. Bo Diddley was…well, different. Bo Diddley was dangerous.

I walk twenty-seven mile of barbed wire
I got a cobra snake for a necktie
Brand-new house out on the roadside
And it’s made outta rattlesnake hide
I got a brand-new chimney, baby, put on top
And it’s made out of human skull
Come on, take a little walk with me, baby
And tell me who do you love

Nobody who wrote or sang anything like that was up to any good at all, and Bo Diddley knew it and did not care. This was what he knew from the hoodoo tradition that permeated up from New Orleans, and it was not for everybody. He built his own damn guitar, pissed off Ed Sullivan on his own show, and called himself a gunslinger and a roadrunner, baby. And who were you to argue? You don’t know Diddley, indeed.

The better articles describing his passing talk of him listening to gospel music, giving it the thumbs-up, and saying he was going to see Jesus.  And then he did, and that’s cool.  And I can’t help but think, as a believer, of what that scene must be like, because you kind of know how Bo Diddley is going to do it – he’s going to do it his way, all the way.  No floating around and strumming on harps.  Heaven just got louder.

I think today, by way of remembrance, we should all do something that someone whom we shouldn’t pay any never mind to anyway will disapprove of.  Yeah, it’s true – we don’t know Diddley.  But if we can each maybe take a tenth of that with us, then the world will be better for it.


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