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June 5th, 2008

Gunslinger

Bo Diddley? Yeah, He Was.

See, I have this theory about the man. It goes like this.

The world is old and tired. We are, too. We've got a lot dragging us down. Fear, meanness, cynicism, pettiness, hate ... they do a real number on us. They're like darkness to our eyes, and silence to our ears. Indulge in cynicism too regularly, be mean to one another once too often, and we become blind and deaf to all that's bright and worthwhile in this world.

You don't even want to talk about what breathing hate and anger do. Might as well tie an anchor to your soul and throw it down into the pit - you're never going to sing again. And a person could die without singing. I leave it to you to figure out what your song is, but rest assured, you won't be singing it down there.

Not unless someone, or something, helps you out of the pit.

Here's the thing: there are lots of ropes and ladders for us to use to get out of the pit, and out of the silent dark. Some are delicate and some are fabulous, or funny, or haunting, or lyrical, or gorgeous. All of them are strong.

Love, of course. Friendship. People. They're the biggest escape routes. But there are others.

The joy of seeing beautiful things all around us - a Spanish cathedral, sea waves and ocean shores, unexpected little gardens in the desert, the Milky Way above a Nova Scotian hill at midnight. The joy of ideas and language - Tennyson's poetry, Alden Nowlan's and Whitman's, or the strange stories of Cordwainer Smith and his Instrumentality of Mankind. There's art of all kinds  - the crazy beauty of Blake, the light of Vermeer, the Great Wave of Hokusai. You'll have your own to treasure, to carry you away from the pit.

And there's music.

It could be gamelan music, or a Celtic harp, or a blues harp. It could be Philip Glass, or Jessye Norman, Beethoven, or Joe Hisaishi, Patricia Barber or Duke Ellington, Aretha, or Jimi.

Or Bo Diddley.

Bo Diddley, with that beat. That BOM ba bom ba bom ba BOM BOM.

You start that, and it can go on forever. It's strong. Watch him play it, listen to him play it, listen to it until there's nothing else, and it'll get in your eyes and ears and get down deep in you and make you want to move with it. You listen to it and feel it thrum inside you, and you know you're resonating to one of the deep joys of the world.

There's more, of course. His guitar, (famous square or strangely colored, whatever instrument he chose to play) can do more than plant the beat in your belly. He makes it wail out long metal strings of howling melody, high above the BOM ba bom. And you want to sing along, because he makes it easy - he sings about himself, and he sings about Mona, and his voice does just what those guitar strings do ... and then he returns to the BOM ba bom.

Watch him move on those old clips. Watch the way his head moves on his neck,
watch the way his feet move him across the stage when he plays and wails - he was a prize fighter before music saved him, you can see it in the way he moves - and there's no helping it. You'll move, too.

And so Bo Diddley can help you leave the pit; his transcendent repetition is the same ladder that Jacob climbed, is the same whirling pattern the Sufis use to find God.

And up in heaven? The seraphs and thrones are going BOM ba bom ba bom ba BOM BOM, and God is well pleased.