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Bo Knows Qaddafi

Bo Diddley’s tombstone head finally joined his graveyard mind last week, and if there’s one thing Bo knew, it was how to distill the sound of danger. Warren Zevon was understating the case when he called him a gunslinger; as the featured clip below from the Ed Sullivan show attests, one-chord cavalry was more like it. The year was 1955. Bo, who claimed he had promised to perform a Tennessee Ernie Ford number, launched into “Bo Diddley” instead, galloping through his mutant variation on the son clave and hambone rhythms like a field general with a war to win and no time to waste. It’s a germinal beat that makes you want candy on a magic bus in 1969 while teetering between faith and desire that will not fade away. It makes you want to smash a rectangular guitar in a state of panic, wondering whether she’s the one, or asking how soon is now. Bo was human and needed to be loved, but he also wanted to be feared. It’s equally fitting that Bo entered his golden years opening for the Clash, and that back in the day, the Rolling Stones opened for him.

But none of the Bo Diddley retrospectives I’ve read have uncovered the secret of something Bo definitely did not know diddley about: foreign policy. I can attest that the author of the worst topical song in all music history was…Bo Diddley. (The close second runner-up: “I Hate the Capitalist System” by Barbara Dane). The year was 1986. While the United States’ past and future headliners in the Axis of Evil, Iran and Iraq, were busy fighting each other, Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi enjoyed fifteen-plus minutes of fame as the most hated man in America. During his celebrity run, nothing seemed to vanquish the madman of the moment; not the Reagan Administration bombing raid that took out a hundred civilians, and not even the New York Post article that ran a picture of what Qaddafi would look like if he dressed in drag.

There was clearly only one gunslinger whose rattlesnake hide was tough enough to take on the President-for-life who inexplicably remained a colonel: Bo Diddley. And so it was that during Summer 1986, when I watched Bo Diddley open for the Blasters in Washington D.C., Bo announced that the next song would be a little ditty called “Hey, Qaddafi!” I’m roughly paraphrasing, but the lyrics went something like:

Ooh Qaddafi, we’re gonna put a flag in your ear
Ooh Qaddafi, we’re gonna put a flag in your ass.

It never got any better than that. It seemed to go on forever. It was a slow-motion train wreck that made me feel crassly voyeuristic because I couldn’t bring myself to turn away. It reminded me that virtually all my favorite performers have at least one song that flat-out makes me cringe. If you’ve experienced one of your favorites having a “Hey Qaddafi” moment, we’d like to hear about it.

Bo Diddley, “Bo Diddley”

From → Diatribes

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