Diddy-Wah-Diddy: A Beale Street Suite is a crazy-quilt mosaic about a near-mythical place located, concretely, in Memphis, Tennessee, and abstractly somewhere on the road between Rapture and Perdition. The novel is a-historic, preferring the beautiful lie to the truth as plain as a mud fence. The novel, if we can call it a novel (and we can), is peopled with musicians, conmen, strippers, magi, foreigners, storytellers, ghosts, villains, heroes, fairy-tale sons of Adam like Elvis and Santa Claus, and the imps of the perverse. Told in myriad ways, including short stories, plays, poems, and song Diddy Wah Diddy moves from Creation to Revelation and, in the end, emerges from the smoke and circus mirrors, to stand naked under the bright, bluesy Beale Street sun.
And so we went down to the Club BingoBango on Beale–and this was O 1930something when Beale was Beale I think you know what I mean, and there were four of us, near as I can recollect; Beanie Sullivan, the Irish bootlegger, Red Rolly Kastlecream, baseball’s first black shortstop I think he was, Sweet Annie Divine and myself.
There was news out on the street and the Club was the center of that news and well we were just as likely to be involved as not.
They had this new sax man there from Idaho name of Alexander Jimspake, no one has to tell you what he’s done since, and he was setting up and the drinks were going around and the Club’s ceiling which was cake frosting I’m pretty sure was dark and far away.
Well we thought we’d live forever that night.
And the jazz was just heating up and this new sax man was blowing a barrelfull and our table was sort of loud and the hub of the wheel of happening I might add and people were stopping by buying drinks and such and talking about the space program or some such.
Sweet Annie Divine just lolled her big head around and licked her fat red lips and opened her wide wide eyes wider and said–
I am the Duchess now and the old Duchess put out to pasture.
And we thought sure she was.
The next table had a fine tall white woman dancing on it with nary a care and underpants that said “The unexamined life is not worth living” written crack to crack in cool red thread and there was a big fat man sitting there name of Samuel Pepys who was tighter than Dick’s hatband banging
on the table with his hamsized fist like to shake that white woman off.
About midnight Sam the bartender–the original Sam the bartender and not the one from Monroeville, Alabama who came along much later–picked up his gavel and called out–Order in the court. We’re gonna line the republicans along the wall and shoot the sunsabitches.
Which we did.
Red Rolly kept drinking kerosene and lamb’s milk and talking about the big leagues.
Twentythousand leagues, Beanie Sullivan said.
There was some Bible readings, some card throwings, hoodoo, one or two illicit passes of hands under the table clothes relieving the pressures of the times, Sweet Annie having the sweetest palm since high school for sure.
Big skinny ring-wearing joker came up to Beanie Sullivan saying–You’re a bootlegger I’ve seen you.
Beanie Sullivan betraying not a little worry sweating under his spit curls and deerstalker cap until the fellow shot out one long thin hand saying–Name’s Darby O’Gill an Irishman’s brother and the second cousin to Michael Robartes himself by God.
So we relaxed and the drummer flammed like a butcher on horse and Jimspake wheedled out long liquid noseblows till the Duchess, the new Duchess, announced there was a party at the White House and the president and his first lady ever were inviting black folks up to just talk for a while about what he called the State of Things.
There was a guy there somebody from the Rainbow Club I think who used to room with Caravaggio in college and he told us some tales like to never forget about that scene and its since unrecognized repercussions.
Club BingoBango known as the Best Bar on Beale and a place where a man still tips his hat to a drag queen served up all the right concoctions: Zombi killers, Fire on the Dick, Live Long and Prosper, Cucumber Zingers, I Love the Catskills, Red Fish Blue Fish, Poseidon’s Clap, The First Crucifixion,
Sorcerer’s Deodorant, and a thing made with kiwis and stump water which was the house specialty and which no one had dared to name.
We tried them all.
The Duchess when she had a snootful began to palaver about how she once slept with Freud while she was vacationing in Antibes and how he was a member in good standing yessir and we had to shut her up with some barbq Sam kept around for just such occasions.
I remember no one like the Logical Positivists at this time and much ballyhoo was raised about this with finger wagglings and fist shakings and it I guess was pretty much good natured for such a tempestuous bunch.
No one’s gonna have Immanuel Kant to kick around anymore, I remember saying.
Wildeyed cat came in shooting his pistol up into the air bringing down ladlesful of icing and stinking the place up with blue smoke hollering–Names Robert Ford and I ain’t no coward.
Huck, the bouncer, chastised him with a Louisville slugger. It was that kind of night.
Somebody in the corner was singing offkey in a cracked Mississippi accent-
I gots four ugly women
Giving me fits
I gots two ugly sisters
–till the ivory man walked over slowly and catheterized him into sadeyed silence.
Heard Lady sing that oncet. Can’t stand to hear it since, Bones said.
About dawn the four of us–and a fifth, Ginger “Styx” Quetzlcoatl, drummer for the BamBam Five–stumbled out into the street where we headed up toward the river reflecting the first Tang-colored raze of sunrise and we ran into Allen Ginsberg and a friend of his he called Gabriel and a dog walked on two legs.
We invited them all along.
We started out for Arkansas or the White House or the Promised Land which might have been just another club I can’t remember and Gabriel said he wanted to play us a little something and we said Fine fine…
Anyway that was around the time this cat called Albert Einstein spilled to me about this atom he was splitting which I started to tell you.