Monday, November 1, 2010

Willie, Chuck, Bo, Rosa, and CompanY (On the Occasion of the Giants' World Series Victory over George W. Bush-- er, I mean, Texas

Ah what the heck.

I’ve been reading about Willie Mays in the book of that name by James Hirsch, and it’s hard not to think about how in the 1950s Mays, Berry, Parks and others followed in the footsteps of Robinson, Armstrong, et al, to change the world we live in forever.

We think of the 1950s as a staid, weird, strained time—and it was; but it was also a time of enormous change.

I’ve written before about what I see as Chuck Berry’s accomplishments in changing the racial history of the United States. Sometimes it was the songs. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” begins with one brown eyed man being “arrested on charges of unemployment” and ends with another “rounding third and heading for home.” “Promised Land” (released five years before King’s fateful speech) talked about a trip to the Promised Land with the bus breaking down in Birmingham, home to Bull Connor and regular dynamite bombings, (including the most famous, that killed several little girls, just months before the song was released.) (On the other hand, Birmingham was also home to Willie Mays’ first professional team.)

But somehow Willie and Chuck got me thinking about Bo.

We know that Chuck Berry is Rock’s first great poet.

But man—Bo could write poetry, too.

I got 27 miles of barbed wire
Got a cobra snake for a neck tie
I got a brand new house on the roadside
Made from rattlesnake hide
Got a brand new chimney built on top
Made from a human skull
Now come along and take a little walk with me Arlene
And tell me who do you love?

Well, I’m not Arlene, but I love Bo Diddley.

When you see him talking with Chuck Berry and Little Richard in “Hail! Hail!” he seems almost tongue tied. Richard is preaching. Chuck is professorial. Bo—he can barely get the words out.

But in his songs, when he tried—totally different.

Night was dark and the sky was blue
Down the alley an ice wagon flew
It hit a bump
I heard a scream
You shoulda heard just what I seen
Who do you love?

But the reason I bring this up? Because in the Willie Mays book someone uses the term “boys” to describe the African American players on a team.

And suddenly I remember Bo and a song that had to be sung.

Now when I was a little boy,
At the age of five,
I had somethin' in my pocket,
Keep a lot of folks alive.
Now I'm a man,
Made twenty-one,
You know baby,
We can have a lot of fun.

I'm a man,
I spell

All you pretty women,
Stand in line,
I can make love to you baby,
In an hour's time.
I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

I goin' back down,
To Kansas to
Bring back the second cousin,
Little John the conqueroo.
I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

The line I shoot,
Will never miss,
The way I make love to 'em,
They can't resist.

I'm a man,
I spell m-a-n

Hail all these people. They changed the whole world.

Thank you.

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