WEIRDLAND: Buddy Holly's Life & Legacy by Maury Dean

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Buddy Holly's Life & Legacy by Maury Dean

Buddy Holly’s picture we all love is the black and white cover of his album The Buddy Holly Story (#11 on Billboard) that arose in early 1959, as the world mourned his untimely passing. It’s the picture where he resembles Clark Kent, with Superman’s music surging in his glowing guitar, whose everlasting trademark songs shatter time and space in innocence, purity, and rhythmic thunder. Any similarity between that B&W picture of bespectacled Buddy and Superman’s alter-ego Clark Kent is NOT coincidental. Outshining Elvis in musical versatility and songwriting savvy, Buddy dialed his Fender Stratocaster guitar up to FULL SPEED AHEAD. Elvis is arguably the most important entertainer of all time. Buddy’s key role? The guy who designed the audial blueprint for all rock music to follow. 

As much as Mr. Beaubien invented the electric guitar in 1926, Buddy Holly was the instigator, the innovator, the one who mattered most, while rock rolls along, hurdling millenniums like speedbumps. You’ll see. Though not armed with the drop-dead telegenic looks of an Elvis, Holly was nevertheless a genius singer-songwriter who zoned in on his own unique sound, nurtured it into reality, and pulled the rug out from under pastel pop ditties that masqueraded for Teen Idol turf. I believe Buddy Holly was a nice guy who finished first. He was half-angel and half-imp. Through friendly goof-around persuasion, Buddy convincingly coached his Cricket bandmates to play certain riffs, cadenzas, and complex drum beats. Hokey as it may sound, Dion’s words cascade down to the present day—“Buddy was like the big brother I never had. He was the nicest guy I ever met.”

Buddy Holly never wanted to be Elvis. He was very modest, and happy enough being Buddy Holly. “Buddy Holly,” said Elvis Presley as soon as 1957, “is my  favorite singer.” Buddy gave all of us the notion, the will, and the gutsy optimism to rock. You couldn’t find a better rockin’ role model if you tried. Most of all, This’ll Be the Day  is a love story about Buddy Holly and his beautiful bride Maria Elena Santiago. According to Peter Asher (chief of the A&R department at the Beatles' Apple Records label), one of the greatest love stories of all time. Like Romeo and Juliet, Buddy and Maria Elena’s is truly the one story that rock and roll could never forget.

Perforating Amarillo, Texas, interstate Highway I-40 traded restaurants like Buddy’s local favorite drive-in the Hi-D-Ho, with the big sign CATFISH—FRIED OKRA—MALTEDS, out beyond where lost Norman Rockwell towns were fading away. Mystery surrounds the legend of Buddy Holly. One great book (John Goldrosen's Remembering Buddy) and a good one (Philip Norman’s Rave On) paint Holly’s All-American Lubbock childhood, both tremendous in scope. Buddy was elected the King of the Sixth Grade. It’s because he was the coolest kid. Buddy’s early life is spattered with adventures you’d expect from a kid at the top of Texas back in James Dean’s frenzied 50s.

Buddy majored in baseball all the way up in grammar school at Roscoe Wilson Elementary School in Lubbock. By five, his pix showed him as an apprentice buckaroo, replete with cowboy hat, boots, and a pony older than the 200-year-old Galapagos tortoise where explorer Capt. James Cook carved his initials on the shell. At age five, Buddy won a five-dollar prize at a nearby County Line talent show with his brothers by playing “Down the River of Memories,” according to brother Larry. The Holleys moved five times in 12 years. The Holleys might have been 'pretty much behind the eight-ball financially' as Larry put it, but thanks to the blessed egalitarianism of the educational system, Buddy lacked few things of the classic American boyhood than his better-off schoolfriends enjoyed.

Buddy Holly was the best musician of the whole batch of the 1950s. Buddy took piano lessons from a local teacher for nine months at some vague age close to ten or twelve, about the time he became King of the 6th Grade. Buddy got so he could dump the written musical notes, and play pieces by ear, but then he quit abruptly, says Goldrosen, even as he was getting proficient. Larry Holley: "I saw Buddy in the Battle of the Bands at the Tower Theater. There was a bunch of crazy kids, shouting and yelling. There'd been a lot of real good-looking singers up on that stage and when it was Buddy's turn to come on, all these kids started laughing at him and yellin' out things at him, like 'Old Turkey-neck!' But Buddy came from the side of the stage to the middle in one movement without seeming to move his feet at all, hit his guitar, and right away that whole crowd went wild."

Buddy Holly just never did a major scandal, no matter how tabloid titillators crank out frenzied fiction hustled as torrid half-truth. Buddy was actually just a guy who went to church, had a couple of romances (after his break-up with Echo McGuire), and then met the girl of his dreams. Buddy didn’t believe in stalling, while falling in love. Holly seemed to admire sprightly cheerleaders like Peggy Sue Gerron. Maria Elena reportedly said his husband detested Peggy Sue, though. Holly hid nothing in his love life, regardless of ridiculous falsehoods. Holly's anthem Peggy Sue redefined the male role that James Dean had started in Rebel without a Cause in 1955. Holly joined Dean and revolutionized the male mass media persona: tough was ok but tender was better. Holly admits vulnerability and captures the sweet quintaessence of affection, the antithesis to icy urban despair.

That's What They Say is Buddy Holly's great unheralded song, stunningly melodic, a brocade of far-flung polychord fantasies and celestial harmonies - it bears a Generation X message of cosmic doom. —"This'll Be the Day: The Life and Legacy of Buddy Holly" (2009) by Maury Dean

Buddy Holly (I gues I was just a fool/ Reminiscing/ Honky Tonk/ Brown-eyed Handsome Man) video.

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