WEIRDLAND: La La Land & Buddy Holly: American Mythologies

Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land & Buddy Holly: American Mythologies

Both La La Land and Chazelle’s earlier film Whiplash (2014) play in American mythologies of success. In Whiplash a young musician at a top (imaginary) New York conservatory wants to be the best drummer in the world, to be a legend or nothing. He didn’t like his teacher's ferocious treatment but he did believe in it, and the end of the film proves him right. Humiliated one more time in a new context, he plays better than he has ever done before, and brings down the house, in this case Carnegie Hall. In La La Land  Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) get together in the beginning, but Sebastian wants to open a club to save jazz whereas Mia, more passive – a little old-style stereotyping – needs his support to pursue her ambitions.

In an elegant if despairing turn, almost outrageous for a musical, each succeeds in changing the other so they can’t live happily ever after. He joins a terrible glittery pop band; Mia writes a play and travels to Paris. The question we are asking, given their miserable triumph, is where the grand final musical number is going to come from, the spectacular celebration of the time and place where we gotta dance.

Gotta dance! Gene Kelly shouts towards the end of Singin' in the Rain. He’s right, he doesn’t have any option, he’s in a musical, and he’s been dancing since the film started. His words mean that dancing is his dream and his destiny, he will be nobody if he doesn’t dance.

In the dimly lit club, the two stare at each other. Sebastian plays a note or two on the piano, and we take off into a flashback which is also a fantasy, a version of the last five years where everything that happened to Mia – her success in film, her marriage, her motherhood – happened with Sebastian; there was no frame of her life without him. Mia smiles at Sebastian across the room; Sebastian barely smiles back. Source:

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in La La Land: "I'm letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I'll hit back. Jazz is about the future. Jazz is dying. It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting!"

“If anything I’ve ever done is remembered, part of it is because of Buddy Holly,” said Waylon Jennings to CMT (Country Music TV) in 1999: “He was just such a innovator, such an original. He didn't compromise anything. He never compromised his music in any way. I think a lot of us learned from that. I know I did. He told me `Just don't compromise your music. You are the only one that knows what you're doing. They don't.´”–Waylon Jennings Source:

“Buddy Holly would have the same stature musically whether he would have lived or died, because of his accomplishments which nobodynot the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or anyone elsecan beat, for these reasons: By the time he was 22 years old he had recorded some 50 tracks, most of which he had written himself and each of them, in the view of many, was a hit. No rock 'n' roll records can touch songs like "Rave On," "Think it Over," "Not Fade Away," "Peggy Sue" and many more. He was also a sensitive, ballad composer, which people often overlook, with songs like "Moondreams" and "True Love Ways." Death was not lingered over in those days. Death and grief did not go with the exuberance and bright colors of the 1950s. Since then we have embarked on the 'American death trip' and the endless regurgitation of Marilyn, Elvis and JFK's death details. Furthermore, because of the ever-growing psychological power of the media, we seem to think we can reach back half a century. Fortunately, Buddy Holly's music is forever young and all any young person has to do is listen to it and his life will be changed forever.” –Don McLean  Source:

Buddy Holly's older brother Travis teached him the basic guitar chords and, according to Bill Griggs of the Buddy Holly Memorial Society, Holly learned a unique way of picking: “Most people play down, up, down, up, when they're stroking the guitar. Buddy played basically downstrokes in a lot of his music. Therefore, he had to play twice as fast, but it also gave him what we call 'rhythm lead.' He kept hitting the bass chord on the guitar first. That's why he had that unique sound that people even today cannot duplicate, because you have to play the guitar 'wrong' to make it right.”

It is often said that rock'n'roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lifestyle of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story: his parents supported him all the way and he, in turn, loved them. Lawrence and Ella Holley had their fourth and final child, Charles Hardin, on 7 September 1936. Holly's father Lawrence was earning $12 a week as a tailor. Their house was a couple of rooms with no electricity or telephone. Ella considered Charles Hardin Holley a big name for a little boy and nicknamed him Buddy, the perfect friendly name for him.

Lubbock, on the buckle of the Bible Belt, was in the Texas Panhandle, a huge and isolated region with vast, featureless plains. On 17 June 1956, Lubbock's newspaper, the Avalanche-Journal, started a series on the evils of rock'n'roll. They showed the dancers at the Bamboo Club when Holly was performing, and blacked out their eyes. The youngsters were dancing the "dirty bop". The newspaper said: "The guitarist hoarsely shouted the unintelligible words 'Hound Dog'." Mrs Holley wrote to the newspaper defending the teenagers, but her letter was not printed. “Buddy Holly will always be rock's enduring mystery, the unfulfilled promise whose extraordinary potential almost certainly would have resulted in decades worth of brilliant music that we never had the chance to hear.” –Kevin O'Hare (Playback magazine, 2009)

Buddy Holly was distinctive and unmistakeable, both visually and aurally. He looked gangly, geekish with those glasses, and unbelievably cool. Alvin Stardust met Holly on his UK tour in 1958: “I was 13 or 14 and I had gone on the bus to see Buddy Holly and The Crickets in Doncaster. I had never been to a music concert before and I managed to get backstage. The Crickets were all so polite and quiet. They asked me how many chords I knew and I said, 'I know three,' and Buddy said, 'You can play all my songs then.'” “Buddy loved his fans,” says Maria Elena Holly: “He always said that those people were the ones who were making him popular, so he didn't think he should be distanced from them. So he was very approachable. He was a very giving person.” Source:

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