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”

About Roger Moore

rocklobster3.JPGRoger Moore is a writer and musical obsessive who plays percussion instruments from around the world with an equal lack of dexterity. An environmental lawyer in his unplugged moments, he has written on subjects ranging from sustainable development practices to human rights and voting rights, as well as many music reviews. A native Chicagoan, Roger lives in Oakland, California with his wife Paula, who shares his Paul Weller fixation, and two young children, Amelia and Matthew, who enjoy dancing in circles to his Serge Gainsbourg records and falling asleep to his John Coltrane records.

Roger Moore’s Musical Timeline

1966. Dropped upside down on patio after oldest sister listened to “She Loves You” on the Beatles’ Saturday cartoon show. Ears have rung with the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” ever since.

1973. Memorized all 932 verses to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

1975. Unsuccessfully lobbied to have “Louie Louie” named the official song of his grade school class. The teacher altered the lyrics of the winner, the Carpenters’ “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” so that they referred to Jesus.

1977. After a trip to New Orleans, frequently broke drumheads attempting to mimic the style of the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste.

1979. In order to see Muddy Waters perform in Chicago, borrowed the birth certificate of a 27 year-old truck driver named Rocco.

1982. Published first music review, a glowing account of the Jam’s three-encore performance for the Chicago Reader. Reading the original, unedited piece would have taken longer than the concert itself.

1982. Spat on just before seeing the Who on the first of their 23 farewell tours, after giving applause to the previous band, the Clash.

1984. Mom: “This sounds perky. What’s it called?” Roger: “ It’s ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’ by Mission of Burma.”

1985. Wrote first review of an African recording, King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System. A reader induced to buy the album by this review wrote a letter to the editor, noting that “anyone wishing a copy of this record, played only once” should contact him.

1985. At a Replacements show in Boston, helped redirect a bewildered Bob Stinson to the stage, which Bob had temporarily confused with the ladies’ bathroom.

1986. Walked forty blocks through a near-hurricane wearing a garbage bag because the Feelies were playing a show at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

1987. Foolishly asked Alex Chilton why he had just performed “Volare.” Answer: “Because I can.”

1988. Moved to Northern California and, at a large outdoor reggae festival, discovered what Bob Marley songs sound like when sung by naked hippies.

1991. Attempted to explain to Flavor-Flav of Public Enemy that the clock hanging from his neck was at least two hours fast.

1992. Under the pseudonym Dr. Smudge, produced and performed for the Underwear of the Gods anthology, recorded live at the North Oakland Rest Home for the Bewildered. Local earplug sales skyrocketed.

1993. Attended first-ever fashion show in Chicago because Liz Phair was the opening act. Declined the complimentary bottles of cologne and moisturizer.

1997. Almost missed appointment with eventual wedding band because Sleater-Kinney performed earlier at Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street. Recovered hearing days later.

1997. After sharing a romantic evening with Paula listening to Caetano Veloso at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium, purchased a Portuguese phrasebook that remains unread.

1998. Learned why you do not yell “Free Bird” at Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams in a crowded theater.

1999. During an intense bout of flu, made guttural noises bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Throat Singers of Tuva.

2000. Compiled a retrospective of music in the nineties as a fellow at the Coolwater Center for Strategic Studies and Barbecue Hut.

2001. Listened as Kahil El’Zabar, in the middle of a harrowing and funny duet show with Billy Bang, lowered his voice and spoke of the need to think of the children, whom he was concerned might grow up “unhip.”

2002. During a performance of Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags,” barely dodged ashes of Jeff Tweedy’s cigarette.

2002. Arrived at the Alta Bates maternity ward in Berkeley with a world trance anthology specially designed to soothe Paula during Amelia’s birth, filled with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and assorted other Khans. The project proved to be irrelevant to the actual process of labor.

2003. Emceed a memorable memorial concert for our friend Matthew Sperry at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater featuring a lineup of his former collaborators, including improvised music all-stars Orchesperry, Pauline Oliveros, Red Hot Tchotchkes, the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Tom Waits.

2003. Failed to persuade Ted Leo to seek the Democratic nomination for President.

2005. Prevented two-year old daughter Amelia from diving off the balcony during a performance of Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

2006. On a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevadas, experienced the advanced stage of psychosis that comes from listening to the thirtieth rendition of Raffi’s “Bananaphone” on the same road trip.