WEIRDLAND: Rock & Roll, Buddy Holly's Lasting Art

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Rock & Roll, Buddy Holly's Lasting Art

Classic-rock radio stations thrive parasitically on nostalgia, slowly incorporating ’90s to early-2000s tracks. As radio analyst Sean Ross sees it, even the active rock and alternative formats now feature few current releases, and those that do get played are either unable to cross over to top 40 or are softer genre hybrids that are very debatable as rock at all. Young female artists appropriate rock’s ­flexibility to express out-of-bounds thoughts while ignoring clichéd postures. The likes of St. Vincent, Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, embody the thought that Kurt Cobain scribbled in his late ’80s notebooks: “I like the comfort in knowing that women are the only future in rock’n’roll.” Source:

David Bowie, Prince, George Martin and Leonard Cohen were among the legends on this year’s grim roster. Is it time to add rock music itself? America was a ­quarter-century out from Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album that rescued rock from its early-’90s doldrums -- as far off now as the releases of Revolver, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde were then. By contrast, consider how few new rock artists of comparable staying power or cultural significance have emerged since that decade’s alt-rock surge. “There is no figurehead band you could point to,” says critic Steven Hyden, host of the ­podcast Celebration Rock: “... a band that comes from nowhere and takes over the culture... that’s ­unquestionably over -- if a band like that came out, there would be no infrastructure to support it.” In the “rock era,” there was more space for eccentrics to skew the game.

Rock is now where Jazz was in the early 1980s. From Louis Armstrong in the 1920s to Duke Ellington in the ’30s to Charlie Parker in the ’50s to Miles Davis in the ’60s, jazz evolved at superspeed and never looked over its shoulder. That is where rock finds itself, in a stage of reflection on past glories. Rock-star memoirs are a booming business — Bob Dylan, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, made it cool with “Chronicles: Volume One” in 2004. Rock ’n’ roll as we know it was named in the mid-1950s: a “new” invention, the electric guitar, replaced the horn section. The performer was usually the songwriter, and there was a standard of honesty and authenticity in the rock musician that made him more artist than entertainer. The musicians who wish to push rock forward are no longer in the mainstream. Rock ’n’ roll certainly is for old people now. It’s for those young people who want it, too. Like any music that lasts, it’s for anyone who cares to listen. Source:

The crash of the Bonanza Beechcraft in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, marked the end of the first extraordinary phase of rock ’n’ roll, the period from 1955 to 1959 during which the basic innovations were introduced by Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Death or misadventure claimed the founding fathers of rock, who were never to repeat the successes of those years. The Army drafted Elvis in his heyday, while religious fervor temporarily derailed Little Richard. The others fell rapidly too. Scandal damaged Jerry Lee’s reputation. The law unmercifully hounded Berry. A near-fatal car smashup sidetracked Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly was forever silenced in a snowy cornfield. Gigantic as Holly's achievement was, we barely glimpsed the dawn of his talent. It was his frenetic, hard-rocking songs as well as the late ballads that are so tough, mournful, and wise, that transformed the agonies and joys of his brief days into lasting art.

“I don’t want to be rich. I don’t even want to be in the limelight. But I want people to remember the name Buddy Holley.” —Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly helped Roy Orbison with lead structures on some of the songs Roy was trying to write. When Roy Orbison, from Wink, Texas, 125 miles south of Lubbock, heard Buddy on KDAV, it altered his life. It was Buddy who showed Orbison the lick that would become so popular years later when Roy recorded “Pretty Woman.” Buddy’s detractors were mostly mediocre C&W pickers who envied his talent, but they had a shattering effect on his self-esteem. He began to withdraw from the crowd, turning inward. Despite his standoffishness, Buddy’s smart-aleck persona quickly reasserted itself anytime he felt secure, especially when he was with other musicians, or a girl who liked him. Holly had the kind of determination known only to heroes and fools. In profile, he looked strangely Martian, but when he faced the camera he was handsome, with a big, heroic forehead, gull-wing eyebrows, a squared-off chin, and a strong jaw-line.

“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was Buddy’s favorite Elvis Presley song. Buddy recorded it at radio station KLLL, whose DJs played it for years. Mrs. Holly loved Buddy’s version so much that she said it was superior to Elvis’s. Unfortunately, the cut has not survived. Once Buddy began to release professionally the following year, he was required by contract to withdraw his amateur records from circulation. When Elvis came back to Lubbock in 1955, he offered to help Buddy get on “The Louisiana Hayride” if he’d come to Shreveport, where the show was broadcast every Saturday night over station KWKH from the Municipal Auditorium. Buddy and his friends set out for Shreveport, 512 miles southeast of Lubbock, driving the ’55 Olds. It proved to be a wild goose chase; “Elvis was supposed to get us on and he wasn’t there,” Larry Welborn told Bill Griggs in 1986.

The rock ballad “I Guess I Was Just a Fool” is the first sign that Buddy Holly was capable of exploring deeper feelings and emotional states with insight and depth. In this song, the story of a man who has lost a relationship but is glad to know he’s at least capable of experiencing love, Buddy seems to be drawing on his ill-starred love for Echo McGuire. The plaintive “Because I Love You,” the song Buddy had just written, suggests the emotional pain he was going through as Echo drifted away from him in 1956. In the lyric, the singer expresses his fear that his girlfriend has found someone else and states he would rather die than go through the rest of his life without her. Buddy poured his bitterness, tinged with acid wit, into the legendary “That’ll Be the Day.”

In 1957, Buddy Holly's band found some of his expectations to be unrealistic and began to leave him in rapid succession. “The main thing was that there wasn’t any money coming in,” Sonny Curtis asserted in 1993. Without a band, Buddy considered giving up his singing career. He was never as confident as later portrayed in legend, Mrs. Holley told Griggs in 1979, after the release of Gary Busey’s film about Buddy, and “came darn near quitting for a time or two,” she revealed. But underlying all the failures was a quiet certitude about his destiny that was as strong as his faith in God. As a last resort, he drove to Clovis to see Norman Petty. Buddy was an inveterate night owl, and so was Petty, reaching their peak from three to six A.M. Norma Jean Berry, Petty’s secretary, often found The Crickets sprawled over the sofa. They’d rub their eyes, drink their morning coffee, then swarm into the studio to record the brilliant songs Buddy was composing in early 1957.

He was on a fantastic creative roll, turning out “Everyday,” “Words of Love,” “Listen to Me,” “Tell Me How,” and “Peggy Sue” in six months. At once sensual, meditative, and spiritual, “Words of Love” is an enduring love song, most likely inspired by intimate exchanges between Buddy and Echo in their years together. The lyrics, mellow and beguiling, suggest the late-night murmurs of lovers who’ve just been inside of each other—body and soul. The Crickets recorded “Words of Love” on a sunny, warm day in April 1957.

One day he rode his Ariel Cyclone up to Shaw’s Jewelry Store in Clovis to buy a present for Maria Elena. The clerk, a Clovis woman named Maxine Nation, told Bill Griggs in 1984 that Buddy was wearing a black leather jacket when she noticed him standing at the diamond counter, studying gems. She assumed that he was an ordinary biker until she noticed that his hands and fingernails were very different. As Maxine displayed an array of jewels, she was struck by Buddy’s politeness and charm, though she still didn’t recognize him. Buddy finally selected a diamond pendant and offered to cover the cost of a long-distance call to Lubbock. When he volunteered the information that he was in Clovis to make records at Petty’s studio, Maxine did a double-take and asked him if he was really Buddy Holly. Later she told Griggs that Buddy laughed and said, “I guess so.” Maxine told him that in person he had the same radiance as he had on his recordings.

Norman Petty could not face the fact that Buddy Holly had evolved beyond the Clovis/Tex-Mex ethos. Years later, in an interview with Skip Brooks and Bill Malcolm, Petty still found it difficult to address why he hadn’t been more supportive of Buddy’s need to experiment and grow as an artist; Petty admitted he had lacked vision. While in New York, Buddy purchased a gold chain for the diamond pendant he’d bought Maria Elena in Clovis. Petty was aware of Maria Elena’s hold on him and knew that she had told Buddy he could get along perfectly well without the Crickets and that he no longer required the services of Norman Petty.  —Buddy Holly: A Biography (1995)

Buddy Holly was never at odds with Lubbock (Texas): He was of Lubbock, and his brand of genius—good-natured, unthreateningly prankish, even respectful, but also surefooted and stubborn as hell—was literally homespun. Raised from hardworking stock in a hardworking town, Buddy had his own preoccupation but never once expected Lubbock to drop what it was doing on his account. What his family, his hometown, and the radio didn’t supply, Buddy found within himself. In effect, he set his own politely maverick personality to music. Lubbock would not have applauded an outright rebel, and Buddy wasn’t one. Offstage, he was the shy next-door neighbor type, a good ol’ boy. But he was totally ex­plosive onstage. Buddy had had his teeth capped to cover the gray traces caused by Lubbock’s heavily fluorinated water. His haircut was less unruly; his wardrobe included Ivy League-style suits purchased at Phil’s Mens Shop in New York, and he had discarded his wire eyeglasses in favor of the heavy black frames that would become a Holly trademark. Source:


dedalus said...

great taste, have you seen this tv episode about Buddy Holly's last days?

Elena said...

thanks a lot for visiting Weirdland, dedalus! and for sharing this interesting telefilm, I see it's from the English TV 'Screen Two' series (Season 5, Episode 4): "Words of Love" written by Philip Norman, it sounds great!