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I knew I’d been listening to a lot of new music, or new-to-me music because I had a dream this morning that my arms and sternum were covered in heavy tattoos.
Sworls of new song lyrics curled up my wrists. Treble and clef signatures wound around my elbows.
And when I looked at my left bicep, Bo Diddley smiled back at me!
I have no tattoos, but the dream made sense in context.
I knew it was time for me to go on home and get back to my roots, musically speaking.
What didn’t make sense was the breastplate tattoo in script of either the word “Candlemas” or “Cantinflas.” I’m not sure which.
Candlmas describes a major Christian holiday. Cantinflas is the name comedic genius of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.
I think “Cantinflas” as a tattoo makes a better conversation starter, but I guess it depends on your company, and as my company is The Husband and two dogs— well, I just don’t know, do you?
Let’s drop the pros and cons of the “Cantinflas” breastplate tattoo to talk about Bo Diddley— the man who is considered to be one of the main progenitors of modern rock and roll music.
Actually, his whole life story is a pretty crazy business.
The Diddley story comes down to this idea— if Diddley didn’t invent the concept in rock and roll, then he inspired some other person to do it based on some cool thing he did invent. (Diddley can also tell a good story, so there are some huge-a-mongous unverifiable claims out there.)
In fact, let’s play a game I’ll call Diddley Do It?
Invented weird shaped guitars. Diddley Do It?
Yes. He injured his groin area jumping with a standard shaped guitar, so he had a square guitar designed to protect his person from hard landings. Other whimsical shapes followed.
Hip-hop music. Diddley Do It?
Yes. The song “Who Do You Love?” is supposed to be the direct lineage to what we know as hip-hop music. That’s debatable, though, depending on what you know about hip-hop music and spoken words in music.
Marvin Gaye was his valet before becoming a super-star. Diddley Do It?
Nope. Cannot find verification for this one. Diddley did record some of Marvin Gaye’s early music, though, when he was with the doo-wop group, The Moonglows.
Opened for The Clash in 1979. Diddley Do It?
Yes! Rock and roll superstar Diddley was the opening act for seminal punk band The Clash during their first U.S. tour. That’s one of the nice things about Bo Diddley— he was a professional through and through. He played big venues and small venues throughout his entire career. Bo Diddley was no prima donna.
The lesson we can all learn from this game is that if Diddley didn’t do it, he mighta, or shoulda, or coulda— his music from front to back sounds entirely new and fresh and fearless and wild-hearted.
Like rock and roll music should sound, don’t you think?
As bands discover new and more complicated ways to express an idea, it’s nice to hear a tight little arrangement that leans heavily on piano and maracas, like Diddley’s “Hush Your Mouth.”
Or the plaintive jangly guitar and tippy-tippy drums of the echo-heavy “Mona.”
Or the cranked-up percussion of “Bo’s Bounce”— a song that makes me slide-dance down the hallway in my old socks.
My personal favorite is Diddley’s lyrics to the supposed progenitor of hip-hop “Who Do You Love?” —
I got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind. I’m just 22 and I don’t mind dyin’.
Who writes lyrics like that?
Bo Diddley did.
He didn’t need a “Cantinflas” tattoo to remember who he was.
Just a big, square guitar and some honeyed, boastful words.
That’s good enough for me.
In fact, it’s downright perfect.
I’m feeling more rested already.
Thank you, David Haggard for the reference photo for Bo Diddley’s Have Guitar Will Travel.