Hey Bo Diddley by Anne Boyer
The name “Bo Diddley” means “nothing,” and yet Bo Diddley was always calling after himself. When Bo Diddley called “Hey, Bo Diddley,” this is what he was also calling: “Hey Bo Diddley, Hey Absolutely nothing, Hey nothing at all.”
Bo Diddley’s one-trick made him singular, except one thing to remember is what is nothing is also the most numerous: “Hey Bo Diddley, you who are rampantly eponymous, tell yourself and by extension everyone else about you who are the person who is always calling after the nothing that is yourself and everything else.”
A person may find “Bo Diddley” wherever there is nothing. The location at which one might find the most nothing is The Palace of Irony. The Palace of Irony is the opposite of Utopia, which is where you also might find Bo Diddley. The Palace of Irony is probably no palace at all.
In Utopia, which is the palace that is no place, a person can have all of the furniture but none of the building. Utopia isn’t and can’t be, yet it is crowded with elaboration. This is a type of nothing that is Bo Diddley, in how it is what isn’t, except how it is certain filling cognition with how it all should be.
In the Palace of Irony, on the other hand, everything is real estate. But if you step inside of it, there is no furniture: no reliable chair, sofa, bed, or stool for sitting. This is Bo Diddley’s other nothing. The Palace of Irony is pure location made of a method of juxtaposition: it’s the method of knives that sharpen each other until nothing is left but the grinding.
If Bo Diddley could do anything, it was grind. In this, he once again resembles nothing, for the most familiar nothing that is so much something is the grind, by which I mean the daily one, how in it time wears away like blades against themselves.
The grind is at least partial evidence that Bo Diddley was, apart from himself and nothing, also a clock. “A clock” is the punch line to the riddle: “What marks everything but itself leaves no mark?” And “time” is the punch line to what tells but doesn’t speak: the minutes, half hours, hours, days, weeks, years and decades shuffle away, and if you don’t see them on a face at the instant they appeared there, you will never see them again. So, too, the shuffle of a Bo Diddley song: hands over minutes, each like the other but never exactly, also like sands in the hourglass, or the sands on which the people danced to Bo Diddley’s Beach Party, 1962.
Bo Diddley is the face of the nothing that is so much something that it must always be called after. Bo Diddley asks, “Where did the time go?” When you sing along to “Hey Bo Diddley” what you really sing is“Hey, come here, whatever both desperately needs and dissipates itself, what is marked by its unmarking, what tells but doesn’t speak, what is and isn’t until there is nothing and everything left.”
It is in the Palace of Irony that what is nothing can also disappear and what one uses to mark its passage leaves no mark at all. In the Palace of Irony, also, Bo Diddley’s face was straight man to his feet, which were hilarious. In the Palace of Irony, also, Bo Diddley’s rhythm was his melody (Bo Diddley: “I play drum licks on the guitar”). His hot was his cool. His going hard was his laying back. His showing off was his humility. For Bo Diddley, like any virtuoso, the least amount of effort was to allow all of his effort to be unleashed.
Take, for example, the moment in history in which Bo Diddley said to himself: “What you say man? Quit mumbling and talk out loud.” At this self/nothing-interrogation of “Mumblin Guitar,” Bo Diddley decided to give the most articulate speech ever delivered from the podium of Rock-n-Roll:
It is in the nothing that is Utopia, however, that you will find the origin story of Bo Diddley. It’s the story of the birth, like all gods, of no one. He was born at midnight, playing a golden guitar, and just like the Baby Jesus, people came from miles around to see him. One might expect that this is the sign of someone who is something, but remember, Bo Diddley is Diddley Squat (nothing). Here’s what Bo Diddley sang about his exceptional nativity: “Woo! I’m a mess.”
This is also the Palace of Irony’s wing of extreme trickster litotes: virtuosity is the messiest shit around. Everything spills out that way. It’s unstoppable, and what spills out (in a mess) of the virtuoso is not an individual but an era and all that era’s marks and vicissitudes. The golden guitar Bo Diddley was born with was the extension of the human hand as the human that was Bo Diddley was the instrument of the other-worldly force that is Bo Diddley’s exact world and his own exact times. There is nothing so precisely historical as the virtuoso’s magic deluge of “era.”
Bo Diddley was stolen from. Bo Diddley suffered. Bo Diddley sowed and barely reaped. About Bo Diddley, people forget, but if you listen closely to everything you might have loved, you will hear that Bo Diddley is the most obvious citation in any treatise on “cool.”
It always took at least four British lads at a time to even begin to build one something that was the perpetually self-declaring nothing that was Bo Diddley. They’d achieve it for a song or two, and they called that “timeless Rock-n-Roll.” What was timeless about Bo Diddley, on the other hand, is that Bo Diddley kept time. The Bo Diddley beat, like the Bo Diddley century, was above any other before or after it, propulsive. Woo! America. Woo! The 20th century! Woo! High modernity’s temporal acceleration! Where did the time go? I’m a mess!
In another origin story, Bo Diddley got his beat from the tambourines he heard in church. The church tambourines got theirs, by cunning preservation, from enslaved people from Africa who beat the hambone on their own bodies. Bo Diddley was nothing; everything; the court jester of the Palace of Irony, therefore its king; a clock; a riddle; a Utopic furnishing; the fly muse of history; a generally hilarious defiance; a drumless drum[mer]; a long transatlantic memory; music’s slow countermethod to war.
In another origin story, Bo Diddley claimed he wanted his guitar to sound like travelin’. He called it “the freight train sound.” It came not by nature, though part of being a virtuoso is the virtuoso’s claim of being the child of accident, but from experiment. What critics said Bo Diddley did with this discovery was “expansion.” Bo Diddley made the guitar big enough for Rock-n-Roll.
There is no doubt that beyond his own The Story of Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley came to be. Rumor has it his name came from the children on the playground in Chicago, where he moved from the South during Bo Diddley’s great migration. Bo Diddley was also a boxer: is this, too, where he gleaned that shuffle?
Here are a few of Bo Diddley’s Albums: Bo Diddley, Go Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley in the Spotlight, Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger, Bo Diddley is a Twister, Bo Diddley is a Lover, Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley & Company, Surfin with Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley’s Beach Party, The Black Gladiator and 500% More Man.
Here is the shadow discography on view in the archives of the Palace of Irony: Absolutely nothing, Go Absolutely nothing, Absolutely nothing in the Spotlight, Absolutely nothing is a Gunslinger, Absolutely nothing is a Twister, Absolutely nothing is a Lover, Absolutely nothing (again), Absolutely nothing & Company, Surfin with Absolutely nothing, Absolutely nothing’s Beach Party, The Black Gladiator and 500% More Man.
Early in his career, in 1955, Bo Diddley had the chance to appear on the Ed Sullivan show as a replacement for Tennessee Ernie Ford. What the producers wanted was for Bo Diddley to sing Ford’s half-minstrel account of workaday suffering “Sixteen Tons.”
But some of us remember that Bo knows, as Nike instructed, the superlative that is the negative of the not-diddley.
And so, Bo Diddley knew nothing about the diddley of sixteen tons. Huh? Another day older and deeper in debt? Bo Diddley came out of the womb with gold in his hands! Even his infant soul was brand Stradivarius: the company store never had enough money to make a bid on that.
The producers of the show thought they could educate Bo Diddley into claiming, in song, something about being broken. They would write Ford’s lyrics on cue cards; they would make Bo Diddley parrot the parroting. The live show began, and Bo Diddley was introduced, but what Bo Diddley presented, in the manner of Bo Diddley and totally without permission was not “Sixteen Tons,” but a much greater weight—“Bo Diddley.”
I saw him in person once, wearing a cool hat, moving through the hotel lobby on the way to his shiny tour bus. This was in downtown Kansas City when I was a girl. I do not know if this is true or not, but about the airwaves heist of 1955, I prefer to believe the legend: as he was leaving the stage of the Ed Sullivan show, Bo Diddley said, “Man, maybe that was ‘Sixteen Tons’ on those cards, but all I saw was ‘Bo Diddley!'”
The NYT said
“the poet’s work is to make
a private vision public”
but fuck the NYT
I’m the public vision
Jasper Johns said
a fork makes a better painting
than a painting makes a fork
but fuck Jasper Johns
from now on I’m eating
twenty first century girl
Anne Boyer’s works include Anne Boyer’s Good Apocalypse, Art is War, The 2000s, Selected Dreams with a Note on Phrenology, The Romance of Happy Workers, and My Common Heart. She lives in Kansas, and is an Assistant Professor of the Liberal Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute.
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