Monday, June 02, 2008

Bye bye, Bo: Bo Diddley 1928-2008 RIP

It's not exactly literacies, but it's rock 'n roll, which is at least equally important when all is said and done. If it's hard to imagine human life without literacy, it's impossible for me to imagine it without rock 'n roll. And music came first, when all is said and done.

Bo Diddley, like so many African American legends of 20th century music, did not get all he deserved on this earth in terms of social goods commensurate with his contributions, as Yahoo's obituary reports. He put out big time, but remuneration levels kept him working of necessity until the end of his life. As his comment that "a dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun" shows, he had a pretty savvy theory of literacy in relation to social allocations.

The first time I saw Bo I was working on my doctoral thesis, and was in the throes of wrapping up a chapter. By the time I surfaced the tickets were sold for the show he was doing with Chuck Berry. Imagine that! As luck would have it, the demand was such that the promoters put up a second show. I got tickets for that one -- the early show -- but suffered the jibes of friends who said what I pity I could not be at the main show. They were probably right, in a backhanded kind of way. The early show started a bit late. Coming on after a blinder of an opening set by Bo, Chuck seemed edgy. That seemed fair enough to me at the time.

Coming out of the show I caught up with some of my friends waiting for the main show and told them they were in for a great night. Turns out Chuck's edginess was about Bo's theme -- the money honey. The story was that "the dude with the pencil" was not writing the notes. About the time I was hitting the road home Chuck was doing the same. I was heading for Brown's Bay and Chuck in the opposite direction -- to the airport.

Bo came out and played the entire second show, and gave his guts for the audience. Screw the dude with the pencil who, after all, was just instantiating Bo's theory. Where would we be without data, after all.

Next time I saw Bo was at the late lamented "Lone Star Ranch House" in NYC -- the club that had half a classic 50s yanktank grafted into the streetside wall. He played for ever, and played like he was still hungry. He played multiple sets of encores. I guess as with that other master of the rock 'n roll riff, Keith der Pirate, in the end the sheer love of the music truly mattered.

One of the best things about digits is that they will keep the heritage of Bo and his contemporaries and predecessors crisp and alive long enough to see us out. And I reckon no one can ask more from a technology than that. I also reckon that no one can ask more of a fellow traveller than Bo Diddley put out: his all and his best, day after day and night after night.

Vale, Bo Diddley. Rest well, and meanwhile we'll treasure your legacy -- and its endless remixes.

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