WEIRDLAND: January 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

58th Anniversary of The Day The Music Died


"The Day the Music Died" (Behind the Music) documentary: The true story of the Plane Crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

Buddy Holly Died for Our Sins: "Buddy Holly's death was like a mythic sacrifice, plane dropping from an icy sky into the frozen American heartland, the blood of Holly flowing over the ground, replenishing rock 'n' roll so that the music didn't die. Instead it lived another few decades before eventually (after Kurt Cobain's death--the last great original rock talent) fading away. It may be that artistic genius is marked by an ability to feel more deeply than ordinary people. The last recordings show that Buddy Holly felt very deeply indeed. They're imbued with yearning, loneliness, and melancholy: "What to Do," "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," "Learning the Game," and "Peggy Sue Got Married." Genius recordings. Another strange part of the story is that for Buddy Holly the "music died" before the plane crash. Holly was no longer able to crack the Top 40. Rock, at that time still a rinky-dink flash-in-the-pan movement, seemed to many to be over. Holly's odd demeanor toward Peggy Sue, his sudden marriage to Maria Elena, his breaking free of Norman Petty: It's a mythic story, unreal." Source: kingwenclas.blogspot.com

Your life really does flash before your eyes when you die, a study suggests - Research on those who have had "near death" experiences suggests that the phenomenon rarely involves flashbacks in chronological order, as happens in Hollywood films. The study found that many of the flashbacks involved intensely emotional moments. This suggests that a representation of life-events as a continuum exists in the cognitive system, and may be further expressed in extreme conditions. Researchers said that the phenomenon could be caused by the parts of the brain that store autobiographical memories like the prefrontal, medial temporal, and parietal cortices. Source: www.telegraph.uco.uk


Friday, Feb. 3, will mark the 58th anniversary of the 1959 death of legendary recording artist Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly in the crash of a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft near Clear Lake, Iowa. The same day now is annually regarded as “The Day the Music Died” at the Buddy Holly Center, 1801 Crickets Ave. When it became clear that promoters had stopped producing festivals in Lubbock during the week of Holly’s birth, the Buddy Holly Center made certain to also pay notable tribute on “The Day the Music Died.” There is free admission to the Buddy Holly Center’s Gallery on Feb. 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and again from 6 to 9 p.m. during that day’s First Friday Art Trail. Source: lubbockonline.com


Maria Elena Holly is interviewed by Don McLean ("American Pie") for a special BBC broadcast, "Maria Elena: My Life with Buddy," scheduled to air February 7th — Anniversary of The Day The Music Died.

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans had gone north to New York during the 1950s, altering the cultural face of the city and bringing a new vitality. The most distinguished musical of the 1950s, West Side Story, epitomized the character of this historic migration, and the musical was playing at the Winter Garden, featuring a chorus of Puerto Rican girls, including one named Maria, singing an impudent, spirited song about the wretchedness of San Juan and the dubious advantages of America. Since 1898, when the United States had seized the colony of Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War, two million Puerto Ricans had immigrated to America. Between 1950 and 1956, the Puerto Rican population of New York alone escalated from 245,880 to 577,000. Most Puerto Ricans settled in the squalid tenements of what would become Spanish Harlem between Fifth Avenue and the East River. The smoldering Latino temperament lent an aura of romance to the ghetto. Songwriters soon celebrated it in sumptuous wall-of-sound recordings such as Leiber and Stoller's “A Rose in Spanish Harlem.” 


Maria Elena Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico, had lost her mother when she was eight. At that point her father had sent her to live with her Aunt Provi GarcĂ­a in the district of Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan. Maria Elena regarded Buddy Holly with interest, not only because he was a rock star: his self-confident behavior struck a chord in her heart. Before Provi paved the way for her to work at Peer-Southern, Maria Elena had held a variety of jobs in New York and had artistic aspirations. Her breezy air of friendliness enchanted Buddy, as did her Hispanic lineage, which would have kept most Caucasian boys at a distance in the fifties. Some of Buddy's prejudiced acquaintances from Lubbock didn't seem to accept his marriage or his new lifestyle.

“Buddy Holly wants me on The Winter Dance Party Tour. Book me.” Preston Allerton shook his head and smiled at me the way people smile at puppies and cretins: “With that loser? Don’t be absurd. Besides, that tour is insufferable. You’ll be in farm states, playing to a bunch of cowpokes, snow up to your derriere.” “Let me worry about my derriere, okay, Preston? I’ve been invited, and I want you to book me. And I want a new record—don’t give me any of this sissy insufferable bullshit.” “What do you mean, sissy?” See, Preston was the kind of guy you think might be a homo. He certainly was sensitive about the word sissy. Now I remembered Preston Allerton telling me: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Buddy was history in five months.” First Preston predicted that Buddy would be history, and a few weeks after the plane crash a collection of Buddy’s material is on the market.  It was a set-up. Buddy had been murdered. Stek-Circ spelled backwards is Crickets. Preston Allerton is an anagram for Norman Petty. —"The Winter Dance Party Murders" (2015) by Greg Herriges

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mad as Hell: Christine Chubbock and The Making of 'Network' (Paddy Chayefsky's Masterpiece)


Christine Chubbuck’s sad exit is said to have partly inspired Paddy Chayefsky during the writing of his screenplay for the 1976 film Network, famous for its own deeply troubled anchor. She certainly hates many of the same things as Howard Beale, especially the sensation-driven “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality then emerging in TV news. Rebecca Hall draws a richly detailed portrait of Chubbuck, and isn’t afraid to make her unlikable. She’s kind of a hard-ass, intimidating and hard to reach, so it’s a miracle, and a credit to Hall, that we find ourselves on her side. If we don’t come away with a complete explanation of what drove Chubbuck to her tragic personal apocalypse, thanks to Rebecca Hall’s expertise and control, we do at least feel like we know and understand her. Source: www.theguardian.com

Christine Chubbock's younger brother Greg told People magazine his sister suffered from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterised by bouts of manic highs and periods of depression: “She had no greys in her life. Everything was black and white. Chrissie just didn’t have a compromise button.” Greg also claims that his concerned parents had spent over 40.000 dollars per year during over 20 years on doctors fees, psychiatrists and psychologists to “help Chrissie find peace.” But aged 16, Christine received a devastating blow when her 23-year-old boyfriend was killed in a car accident, losing the man that Greg believes was “the love of her life”. As her mother, Peg, told the Washington Post in 1974: “she just couldn’t connect with people”. Mental illness may have driven her to suicide, but she didn’t want her death to be meaningless. “That salacious part of television, Chris detested,” Greg says. “Was her final action a raging statement against that sort of television? Yes, clearly it was.”

Bob Keehn, the WXLT-TV anchor man for the evening news, liked Christine Chubbuck: “She had a protective coloration, what might appear to be no need for friends. I felt she was someone with very deep feelings. Someone who seemed more involved with her job and with her emotions than most people seem to be. She had a little more depth than most people. What seemed to concern her was her involvement with the human condition. She would express a negative reaction to people and the way they treated each other.” Whether her last act should subsequently have been dramatised is up for debateher brother has accused the filmmakers of "cash[ing] in on a family tragedy"but 43 years after, Christine Chubbuck is still making the news. Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who is more depressed than Max Schumacher (William Holden) realizes, announces on the air the next day that, in one week’s time, he is going to commit suicide on his show. This scenario eerily paralleled a tragic real-life incident that occurred while Paddy Chayefsky worked on the screenplay of Network (1976). On the morning of July 15, 1974, viewers of WXLT-TV 40 in Sarasota, Florida, watched as Christine Chubbuck, the host of Suncoast Digest, looked into the camera and said, “In keeping with the WXLT policy, presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local "blood and guts", in living color, TV 40 presents what is believed to be a television first. an attempted suicide.” She then shot herself behind the right ear and died hours later. Months later, Chayefsky wrote a line for Beale in which the anchor declares he will “blow my brains out right on the air, right in the middle of the seven o’clock news, like that girl in Florida,” then he deleted it from the script. 

“Television is democracy at its ugliest,” said Chayefsky: “The conception of Network is a farce, but once the idea is there, it’s all real, every bit. I don’t attack; I just tell the truth. Television will do anything for a rating.” “The American tradition of journalism is objectivity,” Chayefsky said to Time magazine: “There is nothing valuable about a journalist comicalizing the news. The news should not—must not—become part of the entertainment scheduling. To make a gag out of the news is disreputable and extremely destructive.” Though the story of Howard Beale’s breakdown might contain “a fanciful, Frank Capra nuttiness that could be appealing,” Pauline Kael wrote that “Chayefsky is such a manic bard that I’m not sure whether Howard Beale’s epiphanies were the result of a nervous breakdown or were actually inspired by God.” 

“Let’s at least show the country to ourselves for what it really is,” Chayefsky wrote: I think the American people deserve some truth instead of pure entertainment or pure addiction. Life is not as coarse and brutalized as it is presented to us on TV. There is an America with a very complicated, pluralistic society that is worth honest presentation. Television coarsens all the complexities of human relationships, brutalizes them, makes them insensitive. The point about violence is not so much that it breeds violence but that it desensitizes viciousness, brutality, so that we no longer actively feel the pains of the victim or feel their grief.… We have become desensitized to things that are usually part of the human condition. This is the basic problem of television. We’ve lost our sense of shock, our sense of humanity.” 

Desperate as these words sounded, Chayefsky had not yet given up entirely on his fellow man. Speaking to an interviewer at his New York office some months after he quit Altered States, Chayefsky said, “I feel almost totally alienated from what’s going on today,” adding that he now lived “kind of a reclusive life almost. I take it the American people are becoming as alienated as I am.” Speaking from his office at 850 Seventh Avenue in the spring of 1981, Paddy Chayefsky offered his vision for what he expected the network news would look like someday—not as it might be depicted in Network, but as he believed it would appear on actual television as watched by people across the country. Chayefsky asserted: “Network wasn’t even a satire. I wrote a realistic drama. The industry satirizes itself.” Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote: “Chayefsky’s warning was made to people who knew everything he said was true, but they felt powerless to stop it.” Writer Aaron Sorkin affirmed: “No predictor of the future—not even Orwell—has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network.” —"Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies" (2014) by Dave Itzkoff

Oscars Nominations 2017

BEST PICTURE
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best supporting actor
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)

Best supporting actress
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)
Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)

Best actor
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best actress
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best director
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best costume design
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best score
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best sound editing
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best production design
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best original screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester By the Sea
20th Century Women

Best adapted screenplay
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best animated feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best film editing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

La La Land matches record held by Titanic and All About Eve with 14 Oscar Nominations. Snubs: Martin Scorsese, Amy Adams, Rebecca Hall, etc. Source: www.theguardian.com

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Till the End of Time, Permissive Turn in the Fifties

Till the End of Time (1946) is in many ways a sad film, also inspiring and deeply touching. Star Guy Madison made his screen debut in Since You Went Away (1944), another film that explores war from the home front, but spent the bulk of his career in westerns. Here he is Cliff Harper, one of three veterans who continue their friendship as they adjust to life at home again. Though not officially a part of this trio, as traumatized war widow Pat Ruscomb, Dorothy McGuire, is as lost as these men who have lived to come home. While Cliff gets plenty of attention from the perky 18-year-old girl next door, he is drawn to Pat's gravity. Eventually, he is able to understand her aimlessness as well.

Cliff and Pat catch sight of each other in a diner, and ten minutes later they're at her place, kissing. By the standards of 1946 this is highly immoral activity, technically low-life behavior. Will Cliff recover the motivation to return to school, or to at least persevere at a job with a future? Will Pat find something beyond her present aimless pattern, and find a committed relationship? Guy Madison and Dorothy McGuire generate beaucoup chemistry in that tight clinch on the sofa in her sunny Southern California apartment; sex between them seems a real possibility. Till the End of Time is too socially conscious to be a film noir, but it is about disillusion in broad daylight.

While the movie doesn't look for solutions to the problems of returning soldiers, it offers hope. The wounds these men, and those at home, suffer will not completely heal, but time will help. The boxer won't wear his new prosthetic legs because they hurt him, but he throws them on and charges out of the house when he thinks a friend needs him. Mitchum's character lives recklessly, and in pain, but his buddies watch out for him, and you know they're not going to let him destroy himself.

Cliff's problems are more subtle. He struggles to stay employed, and to accept Pat's way of mourning, because the years where he should have been building an understanding of these things were spent at war. He's never in any real peril, but his struggle is significant, because it shows how no matter the state of the soldier's bodies when they returned home, they all had psychic wounds.

All of the performances are strong. McGuire is especially touching in her role, and Mitchum steals all of his scenes, clearly showing the birth of a star. Most of the film's Los Angeles locations are now unrecognizable. Cliff and Pat frequent a diner near the intersection of Wilshire and Western. The broad street visible at the end of a residential lane in Palms (West L.A.) might be Venice Blvd. The ice rink is something called the Westwood Ice Gardens, which certainly was gone by 1970.  


Jean Porter shows off her dancing skills on the swing hit "The Jitters" by Gene Rose, played by Benny Goodman's orchestra. Based on a Chopin melody, the romantic title tune saw a lot of radio play back in the day. It's not sung in the film (if I recall correctly), but here's the popular Perry Como cover version. I hope that this film will get more attention now that it is available on DVD, because it is certainly deserving of classic status and a good, low-key companion to that more legendary return from war drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  Source: www.dvdtalk.com

Anytime a subject revolving around the 1950s is brought up, it is most likely that people will once again hear about great the ‘greatest decade of the 20th century’ was in the history of America. One of the reasons why this decade is highly praised is because of an impulse that was liberalizing or changing society’s way of life, talked about in the first chapter of Alan Petigny’s book The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965. Petigny’s thesis: the 1960s was not the massive change of values for the American people but it was a gradual permissive attitude that started immediately after World War II; this is what would later be known as the Permissive Turn of society. The Youth Culture and Sex section talks about how schools wanted the teens to practice “going steady” because “the greater intimacy of going steady facilitated higher level of sexual intercourse amongst the young.” 

Most people, if asked, would say that the 1950’s was a time of the “June Cleaver” wife. Evidence proves it was not exactly the norm. The idea of the patriarchal family was slowly eroding; the ideas of sexual equality were being planted and sown in the 1950’s. “Feminism was [then] less a movement than sentiment, more an amorphous set of attitudes than an ideology or doctrine.” While the 1950’s is not credited for being a time of feminism, it most definitely was. The issue with easily recognizing the status of women in the 1950’s is based in “the failure to distinguish between private choice and general attitudes.” The women of the 1950’s used more subtle techniques such as having a say over which house their family would purchase to deciding when they would purchase the family car. 

Women were also gaining ground in the political arena. For the first time in history a forty-seven year old woman, Dorothy McCullough Lee, won a mayoral race in Portland, Oregon becoming the first woman mayor to serve a population over five hundred thousand. The number of female politicians increased drastically in the 1950’s. Sexual promiscuity no longer branded a woman as undesirable wife material. Women who held jobs were slowly losing their stigmas. The higher educated an individual was the more favorable gender equality became. Education helped the masses have a more progressive view on a variety of issues, including the status of women. While women in the 1950’s were overlooked in the history of feminism they paved the way for the feminist revolution.

Petigny speaks of a 'commoditization of sex' in the 1940s and 1950s, meaning the emerging prevalence of sexuality in popular culture. Petigny draws on examples of this in anything from music to film of the time, asserting, “During the 1960s, Americans were simply more willing to acknowledge the extracurricular activities of their youth than they had been during the previous decade.” Petigny’s ideas about the surge of sexuality in popular culture speak much to his argument of a “permissive turn” during the 40s and 50s, showing a loosening of restraint on issues of morality relating to sex. Most scholars would argue in favor of an emergence of a “sexual revolution” in the 1960s that coincides with the introduction of the birth control pill. However, Petigny supports his argument against the coincidence of the “sexual revolution” and “the pill” stating, “the pill was not an especially popular form of contraception.” In a 1971 survey, “only about 10 percent of sexually active single women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen even admitted to ‘being on the pill.’” Source: hist466ca.wordpress.com

In Peggy Sue Got Pregnant, author and Buddy Holly fan Deanna Adams tells a fictional story of an ill-fated love affair between a Southern rocker, Frankie London, and a Midwestern girl, Peggy Sue Lawrence. It's 1957 in Hereford, Texas: she's only sixteen, and he's a nineteen year old rising rock 'n' roll star. He's touring clubs or cutting records with his band in Nashville. Peggy has a secret and she doesn't want Frankie to know yet, because it could ruin his rising career. Peggy's parents are extremely upset and send her back to Cleveland, Ohio, with her Aunt and Uncle to live. She is strictly forbidden to contact Frankie, who can't understand why she just left him. Peggy Sue is confronted with the realization that keeping secrets is sometimes worse than the secret itself. Source: www.amazon.com

For many years a story has circulated around Lubbock that, just as Buddy Holly’s long-delayed breakthrough finally seemed about to happen, he almost wrecked everything by making a Lubbock girl pregnant. On my first visit to his hometown in late 1994, I talked to Niki Sullivan, the Crickets’ rhythm guitarist, convinced that story was true. The story has just one flaw. The person named by several knowledgeable sources as the mother of Buddy’s illegitimate child (who supposedly, according to Sullivan, was visited by Holly at an unwed women refuge in Texas) is adamant that she knew him only slightly and certainly never dated him. She got married in 1954, almost two years before Buddy allegedly made her pregnant, and her two children – by the same husband – were both girls. The trail stops here. —"Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly" (2014) by Philip Norman

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: www.lrb.co.uk

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: www.gadflyonline.com

“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: edition.cnn.com

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: www.independent.co.uk

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins: the Father of Rock and the King of Rockabilly

Coming soon at the Paramount Theatre: •Dance Party: A tribute to Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, with Denny Charnecki and the D.C. Drifters on Jan. 14. The Austin Area Commission for the Arts is proud to present a tribute to the ‘day the music died’ on Saturday, January 14 at the Historic Paramount Theatre.

Denny Charnecki and the D. C. Drifters will present a tribute to the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper with special appearances by ‘Elvis’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe.’ Fans of early rockabilly music won’t want to miss it. The high-energy romp led by Denny Charnecki is a great way to introduce kids and grandkids to classic rock of the late 1950s. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Order tickets online at www.austinareaarts.org or stop in to the ArtWorks Center at 300 N Main Street to purchase tickets (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. Source: www.austindailyherald.com

The story of the “Million Dollar Quartet” — the nickname given to the formidable foursome of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — has been told in both book and musical form. Now the tale is coming to TV via CMT and an eight-episode series that traces the rise of the famed label of the title, its genius producer Sam Phillips and the four disparate, but complementary musicians. “Sun Records,” executive produced by Leslie Greif and Gil Grant, is based on the Tony-winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet” and arrives shortly after the 60th anniversary of the legendary one-off recording session featuring the four men. Source: www.latimes.com

The million Dollar Quartet  jam session seems to have happened by pure chance. Carl Perkins, who by this time had already met success with "Blue Suede Shoes", had come into the studios that day, accompanied by his brothers Clayton and Jay and by drummer W.S. Holland, their aim being to record some new material, including a revamped version of "Matchbox". Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist now with RCA Victor, arrived to pay a casual visit accompanied by a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans.


As Elvis played and Carl strummed along on guitar, Sam Phillips came out and said he'd like Elvis to hear what Carl had recorded earlier. Elvis listened to "Matchbox" and declared it a "killer" track; the harmony singing on "Your True Love" impressed him. Sam told engineer Jack Clement to start a tape rolling—“We may never have these people together again." The core and the focus remained Presley, Perkins, and Lewis; Johnny Cash had dropped by before Elvis's appearance and stayed long enough to sing with Carl and Elvis on “Blueberry Hill" and “Isle of Golden Dreams" before the recording began. Cash's presence was brief because he had to leave shortly to go pick up his wife Vivian to do some Christmas shopping. Newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis, born of similar roughneck stock as the others, wanted to prove himself to the veterans. Carl Perkins jumped in with a stunning version of Wynn Stewart's country hit "Keeper of the Key," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with Elvis and Jerry Lee harmonizing. Jerry Lee finally took over the piano when Carl and Elvis went into the control room, and proceeded to do a three-minutes-plus version of “Crazy Arms,” the longest song of the day. As Jerry Lee hit his final glissando, Elvis prepared to leave. It was nearly eight o' clock, Carl recalls, and Elvis told him that his female companion was hungry.

Elvis referred to Marilyn Evans as his "house guest," as Carl Perkins recalls: "People like Natalie Wood came home with him as house guests." Perkins' policy was to sign autographs only at the show venue; some girls often found their way to his motel room, but he refused to allow them entrance; he signed autographs outside. “I've never had affairs,” asserts Perkins. Unlike Presley, Perkins had a wife and three children waiting for him at home. Perkins' wife Valda had made it clear that if he cheated on her, she wouldn't be there when he came home, nor would she be talked into coming back. Perkins made it a practice to get back to his room quickly after the show and call home. When Carl would hear Valda's voice, and then hear one of his children squeal into the phone, "Hi, Dad-eeee", he knew he wouldn't stray: “I took my marriage vows very seriously. I knew if I wasn't true to them that Valda wouldn't stay with me a second. Presley? He took advantage of quite a few. I think that's pretty well documented. I've seen him with a lot of beautiful girls. He was pretty hot to trot.”


One of the acts Carl Perkins enjoyed playing was an obscure Buddy Holly song, "I'm Gonna Set My Foot Down" (cut during Holly's ill-fated Owen Bradley sessions in 1956), and he scorched it with a tough sounding arrangement and rowdy vocals. What had been a renegade subculture in the 1950s was moving into the mainstream of American life as its commercial potential became apparent. Magazines were launched featuring rock 'n' roll stars on their covers and featured stories about the artists on the inside. Elvis’s face and name showed up on everything from clothing and perfume to lunchboxes and trading cards, and as a film actor he was proving to be a box office smash.

Only Carl Perkins was absent from the new pantheon. On the road he was continuing to draw sizable, enthusiastic audiences, making his dismal showing on the charts all the more puzzling. A case can be made for the music changing and Carl not accommodating the marketplace, after having purveyed the purest form of rockabilly, having defined its style, he hadn’t thought to evolve it, as Buddy Holly had revolutionized the genre. Dick Clark once said, "Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but Buddy Holly was the undisputed father of rock music." And Dick Clark is right. While chart failings dismayed Perkins, his sense of himself as a still-vital artist remained unwavering—"Dixie Fried" and "Matchbox" were as great as rockabilly or rock 'n' roll could get. Perkins believed that sitting on Sam Phillips's shelf in the Sun studio were some tracks, still unheard, hot enough to melt the disc jockeys' needles.


Of the early rock 'n' roll songwriters, Carl Perkins’ songs were the most subjective in narrative line. He was an artist who drew his best material from his own life in the cotton fields, in the tonks, and from having inhabited the lowest strata of the American working class. His memories were of a time and a place quickly receding into history.—"Go, Cat, Go!: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, the King of Rockabilly" (1996) by Carl Perkins & David McGee

Thursday, January 12, 2017

R.I.P. Tommy Allsup, Buddy Holly's final tour survivor

Guitarist Tommy Allsup lost a coin toss to teenage star Ritchie Valens, who died with Holly in the subsequent air crash. Allsup, who went on to become a successful producer, died yesterday, aged 85. Holly initially offered members of his touring band, including Allsup, a spot on the four-seater aircraft he chartered after a Winter Dance Party tour across the Midwest, according to A-J Media archives. At one in the morning on February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly and his tour band stood around a small plane at Clear Lake, Iowa, trying to decide who would fly to the next venue and who would have to take the rattly, cold bus. Bob Hale, a disc jockey at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, told reporters he flipped the coin that decided whether Allsup or Valens would have the last seat. He lost the coin flip and was asked decades later by music historian Bill Griggs what happened to the coin. Allsup said that he kept it. “It saved my life,” Allsup told Griggs. Source: lubbockonline.com

Buddy Holly drove to Odessa where he recruited old friend Tommy Allsup to play guitar and drummer Carl Bunch for his touring band. Through his association with session guitarist Tommy Allsup, Buddy Holly was becoming interested in jazz. Larry Holley drove his brother and Maria Elena to the Lubbock airport where they caught a flight home to New York City. A bitter winter wind swept across northwest Texas as Carl Bunch’s mother drove her son and Tommy Allsup from Odessa to Lubbock, where they picked up Jennings on the way to the airport at Amarillo to catch a flight to New York City. The band spent several days practicing before leaving for the start of the tour in Chicago.  At the same time, Allsup was teaching Jennings how to play the bass, which he had never played before. “I very quickly memorized everything Buddy did,” Jennings says. “I didn’t learn to play the bass, I memorized the notes.” Holly pushed hard to make the new group sound like the old Crickets. “Buddy and Maria were having some difficulties,” Bunch indicates that Maria Holly precipitated most of the disputes by telling Holly how to handle his life and career. Allsup didn’t feel the same tension sensed by Bunch. “Buddy and Maria seemed to get along pretty good. She was pretty hot-tempered. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.” As the musicians ate breakfast in Holly’s apartment the morning they were to leave for Chicago, Holly and his wife each told of dreams of airplanes they had the night before. “Buddy said something about a plane crashing,” Allsup says. “I didn’t even think about it for years. I don’t know if it was a premonition or if he had a dream.” Bunch is more certain. “Buddy had a premonition about his death.” —"The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens" (1997) by Larry Lehmer

Friday, January 06, 2017

Buddy Holly's mystery, The Permissive Society

It was Buddy Holly who made the Fender Stratocaster, previously favoured by country musicians, the instrument of choice for rock guitarists. If his career is measured in terms of the number of records sold, Buddy Holly would rank high, although the sales didn’t take off until after his untimely death. But if it is measured in terms of influence on other rock musicians, he ranks higher. Indeed, some critics would say he ranks highest of all. Holly took up the guitar at the age of 12, playing country and western music, absorbing influences from bluegrass (acoustic stringed instruments), close-harmony singers, and rhythm ’n’ blues. His guitar style – in which he was able to produce a lead and rhythm sound at the same time – was much admired and envied. Holly's British tour in 1958 was “the most significant and influential tour in the entire history of popular music”.


Whereas "Hound Dog" aims for a monolithic effect (and falls short), "That'll Be the Day" is fully realized, with Holly acting out his role as if he's talking to the mirror, savoring the memory. Holly could be utterly sure of his self-doubt, whereas Elvis couldn't be as sure of his arrogance. Buddy Holly's performance is tougher, his frightening sincerity cut with playfulness, a sense of fun and an embrace of adolescent innocence. Although Holly presented himself as safe as a vanilla shake, he could be stubborn as hell. Buddy Holly’s fans make their annual pilgrimage to Clear Lake, Iowa, drawn by the Surf Ballroom’s magical vibrations. The Holly enthusiasts you can find at the Holiday Motor Lodge are clever, not at all like Elvis fans in their beehive hairdos and polyester pants suits. 

"An obvious no-hoper," rock journalist Nik Cohn wrote of Buddy Holly in his study "The Golden Age of Rock" (2001): "Longtime rock fans have always been bitterly divided about him and his eccentricity. He wasn't a hardcore rocker, being too gentle and melodic." Holly shied away from the violence implicit in the rock scene, and from the hellfire emotionalism of the music. Holly was a rockabilly original, but unlike Gene Vincent or Carl Perkins (or Sun records wildmen Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley and Sonny Burgess), Holly looked for space in the noise, building his music around silences, a catch in the throat, a wink. Buddy Holly's songwriting in the years to come would have deepened, his range increased, his music would have taken shapes no one, not Holly, nor his fans and critics, could have predicted. Buddy Holly's story can be told again and again without it ever being settled.

For centuries, guitars were strung with 4 wound strings (a wire with thinner wire wound around it) and 2 plain (one wire) strings, the plain strings being the highest treble strings, E and B. Normally, the 3rd string, the G, is wound, making it a tough string to bend. An unwound G instantly makes a guitar easier to play and more expressive. And, the G string is more often than not, the string that is voicing the ‘flavor’ note in any given chord, and is also often the root string when soloing. Buddy Holly’s G string was unwound and his guitar style was one of the most profoundly pivotal moments in the history of the guitar. Like Buddy Holly, the only true guitar/writer/singer/producer giant of the time, Eddie Cochran also was writing using the immemorial 1-4-5 chord sequence in ways that did not use the the standard 1-4-1-5-4-1 blues sequence (even if you know nothing about music, you can hear what I’m referring to just by humming a blues to yourself). Virtually every one of Cochran’s masterpieces utilizes those same three chords. 

Why didn't early rock and roll sustain? Not easy to answer. Partly it was because the vintage rockers were so ill-fated. Partly because most of them were not flexible. New figures came up to replace the gone heroes, but they weren't in the same class and were generally forgettable. “Rock ’n’ roll is being integrated into popular music,” warned DJ Bill Randle of Cleveland’s WERE station. “Rock ’n’ roll was an earthy, virile influence, but the authentic artists were destroyed by the gimmick imitators. There’s a point to which you can’t cater to the mediocre any longer.” Newspapers that scoffed at rock and roll in 1959 thought the big-beat music had just suffered a hiccup, and other new stars would fill the breach. Those new stars are gone now. Buddy Holly lives, every time we play rock and roll. And the music survives.

Buddy Holly looked more like an insurance agent, maybe a future computer whiz, than a rock and roll idol, said his astounded fans. Holly’s Cricket bandmate Sonny Curtis offered us this epic echo: “the levee ain’t dry, and the music didn’t die/‘Cause Buddy Holly lives every time they play rock and roll.” Bob Dylan credited Buddy Holly as his main melodic inspiration. Holly wasn’t political. All Buddy was saying: give rock a chance. Keith Richards initiated his riff repertoire playing Not Fade Away at Mapesbury Road. Rock and Roll is rarely a place to find role models for your kid. With Buddy Holly, we have an exception. He’s an example of the flipped adage of “nice guys finish first,” even when their trip comes to a sudden stop. As the Cold War heated into a bubbling volcano of nuclear warheads pointed at American and Russian cities, Buddy Holly taught a snarling world to sing and smile. 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. 

Many families first lived in prefab bungalows that were developed after the WWII ended. They lasted until the 1960s when a range of sprawling suburban homes replaced them. It was William Jaird “Bill” Levitt of Levitt & Sons, who brought standardization and mass production techniques to house building. He turned farmlands into uniform housing projects, so-called Levittowns, which spread in record rates all over the United States. More than ever America became a society of people, as William H. Whyte assessed in 1956, working within an entrepreneurial capitalism safeguarded by the government, and the adjustment to the group became the core of a new social ethic. The economic developments favored an ongoing suburbanization on a large scale that had begun in the late 1940s and which bloomed in the early 1950s. Domesticity, religiosity, respectability, security through compliance with the system, that was the essence of the fifties. 


At the end of the 1940s, there existed six such musical streams: (white) pop or Tin Pan Alley music; country and western music, mainly hillbilly and western swing (C&W); rhythm and blues (R&B), jazz, gospel, and folk music. The formation of this six-stream musical landscape in the 1940s and 1950s provided the set of opportunities and constraints for the rise of rock and roll. Singers, musicians, and composers who made rock 'n' roll music, took the ingredients of rhythm and blues, country and western, and Tin Pan Alley music as their basic musical resources. A notable example is Patti Page’s big success “Tennessee Waltz” (1950) in which elements of C&W and pop are combined. The monopoly of the nationwide broadcasting networks was broken up which favored the growth of smaller local radio stations; as a result “the small, independent station became the postwar meteoric star of the broadcasting industry.” In 1950 there were already about 2000 AM radio stations, a number rising to about 3400 in 1960.

Jukeboxes were produced in great quantities between 1935 and 1950. In the early 1950s, the jukebox exploiters bought between a quarter and a third of all records and paid a fee for every time a record was played in their machines. This further strengthened the already strong position of the record companies. Nick Tosches sets the rock and roll's birth date as early as 1942 while others put it as late as 1953 or 1954. There really is much to say for Tosches’ view, because when listening to pre-1950s records one would categorize quite a few of them as rock and roll. Buddy Holly ranks #3 and Doc Pomus ranks#4 in the 100 Best 1950s Songwriters List from The New Book of Rock Lists (1994), after #1 Chuck Berry and  #2 Leiber & Stoller.

The combined efforts of Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips made the resources of the three main streams in popular music available to a host of new-coming rock and roll singers and musicians. Putting these elements together in the pressure cooker of extended sessions in the small Sun studio in Memphis led to a new rock and roll style known as rockabilly in which gospel, rhythm and blues, and country and western, particularly hillbilly music, were merged into a new kind of songs. The “Presley-Phillips” cooperation led to classic rock and roll records like “That’s All Right Mama” (1954) – Presley’s first record, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (1954), “You’re A Heartbreaker” (1955), “Baby Let’s Play House” (1955), and the last record Presley made for Sun “Mystery Train” (1955). Phillips brought artists and performers like Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, to the front lines of the new musical stream. Alongside Sun and Specialty, four other independent record companies – Atlantic, King, Chess, and Imperial – were influential in shaping the new music. Atlantic was probably the best known independent company of the post-war era.

Another influential independent producer was Norman Petty who supervised the careers of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. From 1954 onward, rock and roll advanced very quickly and soon about 40% of the hit songs belonged to the emerging rock and roll stream. Entering the field in 1954, Decca was the first major record company that became active on the market of rock and roll music, giving Bill Haley the opportunity to make his records, and later contracted Buddy Holly & The Crickets. Other majors like Mercury Records (Patti Page, Vic Damone) followed Decca’s lead and contracted authentic rock and roll artists like The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper's “Chantilly Lace” broke onto the charts the same day as Buddy Holly’s “Early in the Morning,” on August 11, 1958. Buddy Holly was completely in tune with a generation that was tiring of Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Patti Page, and demanding music that was as raw and wild as their own feelings.


Paul Anka’s “I Am Just A Lonely Boy” (1959) is a good example of the 'neat boy' that the major record companies had in mind. As the first in a whole series of teen idols, Anka acted as a prototype. His first hit “Diana” (1957) – 9 million records sold – became an anthem by which the feeling of self-pity was introduced as a lasting feature of teen music next to the attitude of self-assertion that was propagated by the earlier rock and rollers. Paul Anka made some other famous songs: “You Are My Destiny” (1958) and “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” (1959). Rock historians Dave Marsh and James Bernard denounced the major record labels as “gutless and greedy, disdainful of artistry in the face of the bottom line”  in The New Book of Rock Lists (1994).

Buddy Holly asked me if I wanted to go up on the roof of the building to get some air. It was about one in the morning and it was chilly. The Manhattan wind was like a whip. Buddy had a gray overcoat on, the collar pulled up around his neck. He looked out toward the skyline and then turned to me: “What did you think of the songs?” “I liked them,” I said, “especially ‘True Love Ways.’ That’s going to be a romantic classic.”  “What about the other one—’It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’?”  “Well—I just don’t see why you need Anka when you can write circles around him.” Buddy hugged his chest to keep warm. “If that’s true, if I can write circles around Paul Anka, then how come my records aren’t selling?” Buddy reached into his pocket and took out some chewing gum. He offered me a piece, but I didn’t want any.  “You know, Rudy, sometimes I feel like it’s a plot. My sales, man... When all the business guys got involved, all of a sudden the numbers went down. I lost control of my own career. It’s like they can make you or break you. Right now it seems like they’re all out to break me for good, but I don’t know why. It feels like sabotage.” I can see those big black glasses in front of me even now. He looked me in the eye, and held that pose for a minute. Bobby Darin told me that Buddy had lost confidence when his sales hit bottom. He moved to New York to work on promotion and to get better studio production quality.  He hid out for a few months and came up with some songs that he hoped would help him make the biggest comeback ever. “You’ve never heard anything like it before.” So then we both knew Buddy’s secret. —"The Winter Dance Party Murders" (2015) by Greg Herriges

"Rock music causes a breakdown in the synchronization of the two sides of the brain." — No other form of culture, and its artists, met with such extensive hostility as Rock 'n' Roll. In an even deeper sense, rock ’n’ roll went against white America’s ingrained fear of sex, a joyless legacy of the country’s puritan origins. “Rave On” was singled out by NBC Spot Sales as an example of the kind of music the network did not want its stations to play. The wave of protest continued when Contacts, the Catholic Youth Organization’s periodical, censored the music played at hops and warned to “smash the records… which present a pagan culture.” Perhaps skeptical about his future as a rock performer, Buddy Holly became interested in his future as recording producer. The musical establishment incited a congressional investigation into the widespread practice of payola (paying DJs for playing specific records). They succeeded in steering the investigation exclusively to those involved in producing and playing rock and roll music. Their representatives convinced the congressional investigators that rock and roll subsisted on payola. They castigated the music as an “inciter of juvenile delinquency” and pointed to Alan Freed as the prime offender. —"Anti-Rock: The Opposition To Rock 'n' Roll" (1993)

Maria Elena Holly would state in an early 1959 issue of 16 magazine that she’d initially met Buddy in January 1958, according to Alan Mann’s A–Z of Buddy Holly (1996). Archivist Alan Clark reprinted the 16 article in 1989 in his booklet “A Farewell to Buddy Holly: The Young Bride of a Favorite Young Star Bids Him a Last Goodbye,” in which Maria Elena says that she had previously seen Buddy around Peer-Southern and begun to think he was so shy they’d “never get beyond the point” of greeting each other and kidding around. The article goes on to state, in Maria Elena’s voice, that they finally connected when she encountered him at Howard Johnson’s. Buddy invited her to sit down for lunch, grabbed her hand and said to the Crickets: ‘O.K., you guys, just cut it out, because I’ve got her now.’ Maria Elena said she need two hands to eat. Buddy replied, “Oh, that’s all right, I’ll help feed you’. After she’d left, Buddy turned to Norman Petty and told him, “You see that girl? I’m going to marry her.” Some months later, Buddy took her to a record session, followed by “a quiet dinner.” As he dropped her off in a taxi, the car made a sharp turn and threw them together. “Before either of us realized it, we were sharing our first kiss,” Maria Elena remembered. They continued to stay in touch by phone while Buddy was on the road until their 'marriage proposal' date in June 1958.

Norman Petty had been nagging Buddy Holly to jettison rock ’n’ roll and start cutting pop records. Petty advised that Buddy change his singing style and get accepted in a more durable market so his career wouldn’t vanish with the demise of rock ’n’ roll, which Petty warned was imminent. He envisaged Buddy as a Vegas nightclub act, crooning to drunks and gamblers, and cutting Sinatra-type lovers’ albums. “Naw,” Buddy said, “I don’t dig it.” After Buddy's death, Norman Petty’s downfall was slow and tortured. After scoring an enormous hit in 1963 with Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs’ “Sugar Shack,” Petty made the mistake of criticizing the Beatles and psychedelia in the presence of record-industry associates and afterward was dismissed as old hat. Suddenly no one would take his calls. “In his latter years people that he started in the business, who were now in powerful positions, began to reject his recordings,” Billy Stull, manager of the Clovis studios, recalled in 1992. Though his contribution as a pioneering record producer of the rock era rivaled that of Sam Phillips, there were few honors for Petty. Sam Phillips was one of the original inductees in the Rock-’n’-Roll Hall of Fame, but Petty was ignored, perhaps because he never succeeded in dispelling persistent rumors that he’d mistreated Buddy Holly and other musicians. “He died an unhappy man. He kept the hurt inside. He had plenty of money and fame, but he was unhappy. He died unfulfilled,” says Stull.

“We were paying nine hundred dollars a month,” recalls Maria Elena, which was an astronomically high rent, even in New York, in 1958. Jerry Allison was furious over the sullen, slovenly “asshole” that "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) made him out to be, he later told Bill Griggs, especially in the scene where Don Stroud, playing Jerry (named Jesse in the film), makes sexist and racist cracks about Maria Elena, which “really irritated the shit” out of him. The insults had actually come from a recording engineer, Allison told Mason City Globe-Gazette's writer Jeremy Powers in 1989. The Buddy Holly Story, Allison added, “They loosely took it from John Goldrosen's book.” Members of Buddy’s family viewed the Gary Busey “biopic” for the first time at the Lubbock opening on May 20, 1978. Initially they seemed pleased. Though the family appreciated Buddy’s talent, they never expected him to become a world figure, Mrs. Holley had told Bill Griggs.

Located by the indefatigable Bill Griggs, publisher of Rockin’ 50s magazine, Echo McGuire asked “not to be interviewed as her memories of Buddy are too personal,” Griggs related in 1992. Love was another mystery for Buddy Holly who, as a young man, bore a smile that put to shame a San Antonio sunrise in May bluebonnet season. Key figures associated with the Winter Dance Party tour were reluctant to discuss Buddy Holly. GAC’s Irvin Feld didn’t answer letters, Griggs said. Early rock was stymied not only by the stark disaster at Clear Lake, but by forces that had been trying to destroy it from the beginning. Terrified by its message of freedom, the establishment marshaled formidable forces—including the press—to discourage the musicians and their audiences. Even the music industry seemed to turn against rock ’n’ roll in 1958, attempting to bury it in the payola scandal that ended the decade. Buddy Holly’s life was a story of exploitation, betrayal, and distortion—by his manager, by insensitive record business entrepreneurs, by tour packagers who sent him into the frozen North Woods... “The Devil killed him,” said Carl Bunch to Bill Griggs in 1981.

After the Apartment Tapes hinted at a marked shift of Buddy Holly's musical progression, a strange myth attached to Buddy's figure was created around the existence of more mysterious demos that would surface or remain hidden in Scotch Magnetic Tapes, obscure masterpieces sealed inside some dusty box at his apartment or behind the doors of the Adelphi Sound Studios (Brill Building, 1650 Broadway). The speeded-up walla-walla-bing-bang nonsense of David Seville's “Witch Doctor” and Christmas 1958's hit “The Chipmunk Song” sounded far away from the collective memory with the beginning of the tumultuous Sixties. A different lifestyle (more technicized, commercialized and trend-oriented) would arise at the core of the rock industry and the American society at large.


The mistake of angling a determined era according with standards of the present also applies to the biographical approach that some writers have wrongly administered to Buddy Holly and other rock icons from the Fifties. Most songs Holly wrote and recorded at his New York apartment were about regret and lost love, but who knows what was going through his mind at the end of 1958? Holly fitted the nice guy archetype and the non-conformist archetype at once. This classic dichotomy (especially visible during the gender normative pervasive of the 50s) could have caused him a psychological split. Rock 'n' Roll, the same as uninhibited sexuality, was seen as close to pathology in those days. Holly suggested in his songs sex in the abstract, detached from its potentially disturbing reality, and elevated it to bear ironic symbolism.

In The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965 Alan Petigny challenges our understanding of the 1950s as a time of staid tradition, showing a turbulent decade in which sexual mores, and assumptions of identity underwent profound, and sometimes destructive, change: “People didn’t start having sex because Elvis Presley was shaking his hips. The ‘40s and ‘50s experienced a dramatic increase in premarital pregnancies,” Petigny said: “more than doubling of illegitimacy among whites, more than tripling of all out-of-wedlock births.” Single motherhood rose from 7.1 to 21.6 newborns per 1,000 unwed women. The sexual revolution did not start in the free-loving 1960s as is commonly thought. “Between the beginning of World War II in 1939 and the inaugural issue of Playboy in 1953, the overall rate of single motherhood more than doubled,” Petigny added: “The silent generation may have been silent about what they were doing, but they weren’t all that complacent.” www.research.ufl.edu

Sources: —"The Riddles of Rock and Roll" (2003) by Leo d’Anjou, "This'll Be the Day: The Life and Legacy of Buddy Holly" (2009) by Maury Dean, and "Rockabilly: The Twang Heard 'Round the World: The Illustrated History" (2011) by Michael Dregni