WEIRDLAND: January 2019

Monday, January 28, 2019

Remembering Buddy Holly (Rise and Fall of Rock)

Buddy Holly greatly influenced the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Buddy once said in 1957, "Without Elvis, none of us would be here." In the mid 70's, before his own death, Elvis said, "Looking back over the last 20 years, I guess the guy I've admired most in rock and roll is Buddy Holly." Now, that's respect. In his book, "Rock 'n' Roll: The 100 Best Singles," Paul Williams wrote, "It only fully became rock and roll when Buddy Holly started singing it." Dick Clark (American Bandstand) remarked: "Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll, but Buddy Holly was the undisputed father of Rock music." And Dick Clark was right. Holly went from violin to piano to steel guitar before switching to the standard acoustic model at age 11. At the age of 22, somehow Holly got the idea that he could do everything himself. Producing, working in different genres, exploring new compositive tecniques, a complete break from the norm at the time. Yes, Holly's ideas predated the Beach Boys and The Beatles, considerably, even to the point where he wanted to be his own George Martin. Buddy Holly was an intelligent dreamer with the proof that his songwriting was getting better. His quality output was also growing. Because of all of that, I see no reason that Buddy couldn't have met at least half of his big dreams if he was given more living years. Source: Remembering Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly had an optimistic, gentle self-mocking hiccup in his voice. He was as popular with the boys as Elvis Presley was with the girls, but for different reasons. Buddy Holly was the most influential rock star of his time, possibly of all time. Sunday, February 3, will mark the 60th anniversary of Buddy Holly's death in the crash of a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft near Clear Lake, Iowa. Consider how few new rock artists of comparable staying power or cultural significance have emerged since the '50s or the 90'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 past “Rock & Roll era,” there was more space for eccentrics to skew the establishment game than today. —"Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars - 1955/1994" (2017) by David Hepworth

Buddy Holly & The Crickets never counted on their good looks to win them fans: “Buddy didn't really appeal to girls as far as a teen idol sort of thing,” said Jerry Allison. Not that girls didn't dig Buddy Holly, they even screamed. But compared to Elvis, Eddie Cochran or Dion, he simply couln't lay on his sex-appeal the same way. “It seemed like the boys liked us better,” continues Allison: “They were fans because of the music, not because of good looks, emotions or whatever.” Mrs. Holley (Buddy's mom) confirmed this aspect too: Around 90% of the letters she had received since Buddy's death were from males, even though females make up a large majority of the record-buying audience.

Joe B. Mauldin explains: “To be honest, I don't ever remember seeing Buddy hustling girls or sleeping with a girl during the tours. I think Buddy had enough on his mind... And as for drugs, no, absolutely no, for any of us. I didn't even know what marijuana was, until years later.” Nikki Sullivan: “Buddy was a star, and he knew it, he didn't mind anybody else sharing the stardom with him.” His marriage with Maria Elena Santiago was not kept a secret either, it just was not publicized. “They wanted to introduce me as The Crickets' secretary. But Buddy always introduced me as his wife, so it's not true to say our marriage was secret. We just didn't feel like broadcasting the news.” —"Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography Of Buddy Holly" (2001) by John Goldrosen

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Buddy Holly: Learning the Game

Most people in the late 50s were into Elvis Presley, but Buddy Holly was the nerds’ hero. Music historian Dominic Pedler (The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles): As far as the mechanics of his music are concerned, Buddy Holly was arguably the first rock ‘n’ roll pioneer to make a convincing crossover from traditional three-chord structures to harmonically sophisticated pop. Most of Buddy Holly songs have subtle harmonic twists that distance themselves from the straight ahead, three-chord fare relied on relentlessly by, say, Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. Even the simplest compositions like ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ‘It’s so Easy’ enjoy watershed moments where a new chord deliberately cues that hanging end-of-bridge feeling that so reinforces the song’s most poignant lyrical line: ‘That some day, well, I’ll be through’ or ‘Where you’re concerned, my heart has learned’. The final release with the Crickets in this period featured Tommy Allsup & the Roses and the B side of ‘It’s so Easy’—‘Lonesome Tears’, recorded in the summer of 1958, which has remained a favourite.


John Tobler: ‘When Bob Dylan and Carolyn Hester were first speaking, he asked her how she knew ‘Lonesome Tears’ and she said, truthfully, that Buddy had taught her the song. Dylan would hardly believe that he was talking to someone who knew Buddy Holly.’ The lyrics of Lonesome Tears, like the best of Holly’s compositions, are clear and direct. They offer a simple structure for a breathtaking ensemble performance. It opens with four firecrackers from the guitar and drums. Then Buddy sings in synergy with the Roses to express his bitter distress at the loss of a love, and pleading and regret saturate the lyric. The Crickets’ frantic tempo underscores the restrained desperation of his delivery. The bridge is a revelation as his voice soars upward to emphasise his devastation at her departure. Buddy knew how to rein in this emotional outburst in order to return to the more controlled final verse, again blending in a lower register with the Roses. Then Jerry slams his kit to herald one of the most inspired guitar solos in the Holly canon. It achieves a peak that requires Buddy to resume his vocal at an even greater emotional pitch which he sustains to the end of the track. I’m left exhausted by the power of the performance which concludes with two simple but effective chords. These provide a sense of completion and emphasise the collective achievement of the performers in a 105 second masterpiece.’ 


Tim Whitnall: ‘Rock Around with Ollie Vee is the moment in American music history where rockabilly was about to become rock’n’roll, and Buddy Holly nailed it absolutely. The master take of ‘Peggy Sue’ is the best because the balance is so perfect. The way that they roll the reverb on the tom-toms and keep turning it on and off so that it sounds like you’re in outer space is wonderful.’   Maria Elena Holly: I wanted to be in show business myself, on Broadway, so I was taking lessons for dancing and singing and drama, but when Buddy came along, that was gone. He said, ‘It’s either you or I, we cannot both do the same thing.’ (Laughs) I said, ‘Okay, since you’ve already started, I give up.’’ Surprisingly, Maria Elena Holly was not used to dating: ‘I was 25 and I didn’t have much time for dating as I was involved with so many things. My aunt was very strict. She had told me that I was going to meet a lot of musicians, but I should not go out with them. She said that they were not responsible, but I saw Buddy coming through the door and it was like magic.’ On 15 August 1958 Buddy and Maria Elena were married at the Holley’s home on 1606 39th Street, Lubbock (Texas). Very few people were there: Ella and Lawrence, Larry, Travis and Patricia and their spouses, Jerry and Peggy Sue, and Joe Mauldin, while Buddy’s latest single was on the record player, ‘Now We’re One’. 

Buddy was still wearing dark glasses in his wedding pictures, which suggests that his standard frames had not been repaired. Buddy and Maria Elena with Jerry and Peggy Sue drove to El Paso and then moved to Acapulco for a double honeymoon. Maria Elena Holly: ‘We had our honeymoon with Jerry Allison who had married Peggy Sue in June. Jerry suggested that we all went to Acapulco. I said I didn’t mind, but Buddy said, ‘I do mind because I do not like Peggy Sue.’ He would be uncomfortable but I said that it would just be a short break.’ On stage performances, Norman Petty said that his accounting records only showed what was deposited, which, in reality, was under half of what was earned. As the Crickets’ manager, this is atrocious and showed a dereliction of duty. Reportedly, Norman Petty was devastated when Buddy Holly stopped recording in Clovis. When asked about Elvis Presley, Petty stated that ‘Buddy was much the better artist.’ If he really believed that, then why didn’t he get the finances right? He must have assumed that Buddy would be too busy to notice. Quite possibly, he had persuaded the Crickets to stay because they might act as a lever to get Buddy back to Clovis. Maria Elena is quite clear where the blame lay: ‘Buddy didn’t have any money because his manager didn’t want to let the money go.’ Buddy Holly split with the Crickets as they wanted to remain in Lubbock while he settled in New York with Maria Elena. The Crickets had considered going to New York, but Norman Petty, and probably Peggy Sue, had talked them out of it. 

Niki Sullivan had left The Crickets and received a $1,000 cash settlement. His song, ‘It’s All Over’, was inspired by his angry split from the Crickets. Now deceased, Niki Sullivan did occasional interviews and said that Buddy Holly had a love child with a girl in Lubbock. Peggy Sue Gerron, also deceased, made it clear that Buddy was fond of this girl and helped her when she was in trouble, but he was not the father. Sadly, this means that nobody inherited Buddy’s genes. The Winter Dance Party was a 3-week tour in extremely cold weather and there could be hundreds of miles between dates. An essential requirement should have been travelling in a well-equipped bus with bunk beds and good heating. No way. The buses came from Trailways in Chicago and were requisitioned school buses unsuitable for the extreme weather conditions. From time to time, the musicians started writing together, but they were generally too cold to be bothered. Whatever they did has been lost. Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and The Big Bopper did write ‘Move Over Blues’ and The Big Bopper’s notebook survived the crash with the lyrics to a new song, ‘If I Ever Lost You’. 

On 25 January 1959, the tour came to the Kato Ballroom in Mankato, Minnesota, and on the following day, Eau Claire in Wisconsin. Next came the Fiesta Ballroom, Montevideo, Minnesota and the Promenade Ballroom, St. Paul, Minnesota. On 29 January 1959, the Winter Dance Party was at the Capitol Theatre in Davenport, Iowa. On 30 January 1959, they had an unscheduled stop at the Gaul Motor Company, Tipton for repairs. Then they were on their way to Laramar Ballroom, Fort Dodge, Iowa. Tommy Allsup: ‘You could tell that Buddy missed Maria Elena. After a show, Waylon, the Bopper and me would usually go for a beer but Buddy didn’t come. He didn’t drink at all on that tour. Buddy knew how uncomfortable touring was, especially in the coldest winter ever but he could not get out of it. We nearly froze to death in Wisconsin when the bus broke down. Their drummer got frostbite and had to be left in hospital in Michigan. Though he wanted to come home, Buddy was a professional – he was the headliner and he could not leave. He always put on a great show despite the conditions.’  A conspiracy theory has Buddy Holly, with the added persuasion of his handgun, taking over the controls from an incompetent pilot. It was wholly implausible, especially as Buddy had had less than 2 hours’ flying experience. Waylon Jennings had fuelled this controversy by saying, ‘There’s a good chance that Buddy was flying that plane.’ Maybe the pilot Roger Peterson had gone to pieces and Holly had realised that the only hope lay with him, but it is seems highly unlikely. 

Redemption is a favourite theme of Hollywood films, but how often does it happen in real life? Rock’n’roll stars have been badly served by the cinema and there has yet to be a decent film about Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly. In Elvis (1979), Kurt Russell decides that the most important thing to do when he takes possession of Graceland is to display his gold records. Great Balls of Fire! (1989) conveys Jerry Lee Lewis’s manic energy but the result is an animated cartoon that gives no indication of his extraordinary talent. The first biopic of a rock’n’roll star was of a performer who had never appeared in a film, The Buddy Holly Story, in 1978, and, despite its many faults, it has turned out okay. In 1975, Jerry Allison had acted as advisor on a script, Not Fade Away, to be directed by Jerrold Friedman. 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the film but they closed down the shooting after 2 weeks. Nobody had looked closely at the script and the producers realised that this wasn’t the bright raveup they’d been expecting. It’s a pity that the film was not completed or that the shot footage has not been seen. Just prior to The Buddy Holly Story, there had been a very good film about a crucial week in Alan Freed’s life, American Hot Wax (1978). 

The producers of The Buddy Holly Story, Ed Cohen and Freddy Bauer secured the rights to John Goldrosen’s well-researched biography of the star, but their budget was only $2m and by way of contrast, the abysmal film of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was made around the same time with a budget of $12m. Gary Busey, who had played Jerry Allison in the aborted Not Fade Away, was a superb choice for Buddy Holly. He was a good actor, having played Kris Kristofferson’s road manager in A Star Is Born (1976). The Buddy Holly Story was his first lead role and it was wisely decided that he would perform in front of live audiences. Norman Petty is not mentioned in the film because he was denied script control. He, apparently, had a script for a TV movie, which was never made. According to Jerry Allison: ‘They didn’t have the rights to use our names in The Buddy Holly Story so they called me Jesse and Joe B. was Ray Bob. Apart from that, I hated it. They took a book and got that wrong, so the movie was very disappointing to me.’ According to Joe B. Mauldin: ‘Buddy was much smarter than his character in the film.’

According to Sonny Curtis: ‘He wasn’t anything like he was portrayed in The Buddy Holly Story. Gary Busey’s portrayal of Buddy was more like Chuck Berry than Buddy. He also depicted Buddy as a sloppy dresser and an unsophisticated rube. Buddy was neither. Another thing I didn’t like of that portrayal is that Buddy sometimes could be a smart alec, but he was always a gentleman.’ Maria Elena was one of the advisors on the film so the romance part is handled well. Buddy Holly was a clean guy, with good morals, and there are no groupies or drugs in the film. You may wonder: where’s the rest of the story and why they decided not to show the plane crash as they end on a high after a performance on the Winter Dance Party. It was down to lack of budget.

In the end it came down to Elvis or Buddy. They were both my personal heroes but I chose Buddy because he was less obvious than Elvis. His music was subtler and more inventive and he wrote much of his own material, so in many ways he was more original and off-beat. There’s also something about Buddy’s voice that is totally open and honest and speaks to the heart. It’s indefinable, but it is as though his music is the medium through which his spirit is conveyed directly to the listener – it’s the transparency of great art. His off-beat humor made him stand out from the crowd. The other astonishing thing about him is how timeless and undated the music sounds. The rock and roll musicians all came from poor backgrounds, and so did their own heroes. There are no doctors or lawyers in Buddy Holly’s family tree: it is a background of farmers and labourers and it is Buddy Holly, not John Lennon, who was the working class hero. —"Buddy Holly: Learning the Game" (2019) by Spencer Leigh 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Moments in Time: Marilyn Monroe

More than 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe continues to fascinate the public. The most recent example of her timeless, transfixing spell comes in the form of one of the legendary bombshell’s most admired assets: her gorgeous blonde hair. Moments in Time, a purveyor specializing in collectibles, is now offering up a lock of Monroe’s famous mane, giving the public a chance to own a piece of Old Hollywood history nonpareil. The cost for such an iconic piece of cinematic gold? A cool $16,500.

Housed in a display box, the hair clipping comes from the actress’s hairdresser Kenneth Battelle and is dated June 14, 1959. The paper box features two glass framed pieces: one which contains a lock of around 35 strands of hair (making each follicle worth somewhere around $471) and, next to it, there’s an image of the iconic actress in the middle of her signature laugh. Still, Marilyn Monroe’s legacy has cast a longer shadow than most, and a get like this will certainly go quickly. If you’re a Monroe aficionado, we’d suggest ponying up the dough as quickly as possible. As they say: Hair today, gone tomorrow. Source: robbreport.com

Marilyn Monroe has come to represent our notion (however nostalgic) of 1950s attitudes, as scholars like Sarah Paige Baty (in her essay American Monroe, 1995) show. As critic Richard Dyer argued in Stars (1980), "Monroe’s image must be situated in the flux of ideas about morality and sexuality that characterized the 50s in America and can be indicated by such instances as the spread of Freudian ideas in post-war America, the Kinsey report, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, rebel stars such as James Dean and Elvis Presley, etc. Marilyn Monroe’s combination of sexuality and innocence is part of that flux, but one can also see her “charisma” as being the apparent condensation of all that within her. Marilyn invented a persona—The Girl—that would at first seem to release her from the bad things of her childhood, but which later became like one of her childhood ghouls, leaning over her, making her all sex, suffocating her. Thus she seemed to “be” the very tensions that ran through the ideological life of 50s." —"The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe" (2005) by Sarah Churchwell

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bad Times at the El Royale, Cal Neva restored

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) is a stylish film marred by muddled social commentary, set in 1969 at a resort modelled after the 220-room Cal Neva Lodge, which straddled the California-Nevada state line. However, the El Royale seems to have only eighteen rooms, judging by the keys hanging in the key safe, considerably fewer judging by the floorplan, of which only four are rented. All four guests arrive within the span of half an hour or so, to find the resort entirely unoccupied. No staff either, other than the concierge/desk clerk. Most of the rooms have been unoccupied for so long, they haven't even been cleaned. Very Kafkaesque, but how does such a resort remain in business? With two non-guests, there are seven central characters. The suggestion that they represent the seven deadly sins and the hotel represents heaven and hell has considerable appeal. John Hamm's character is the only one to get a room in the California area.

There is a question that permeates Bad Times At The El Royale without ever becoming a central focus: who is on the tape? The people who own the El Royale had been spying on people in the rooms with the footage being mailed to them by Miles. This, the last remaining reel, had captured a particularly famous person who visited the hotel in the recent past and has since died, committing what we can assume was adultery. One of the most obvious candidates is Robert F. Kennedy. According to director Drew Goddard: "Who knows how true any of the mob stuff and Kennedy rumors are, but it’s titillating to a writer’s imagination."  Everything in Bad Times At The El Royale exists in a gray area except two people: Darlene and Billy Lee, light and dark respectively. Indeed, she's the one who puts him in his place, too. By following her dreams despite having had her career stepped on by greasy producers, Darlene eventually finds her break, and a nice friend along the way. Billy uses the vulnerable to give himself a power trip before getting his comeuppance. Bad Times At The El Royale offers a couple of simple takeaways – hold onto your dreams as hard as you can, because so much of this world is out to destroy them, and if some bad people have made you do some bad things, it's okay, you are forgiven, because we all know who the real bad guys are. Source: screenrant.com

Built in 1926, the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino was owned by Frank Sinatra from 1960-63, and frequented by the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family, among others. Company co-owner Robert Radovan previously said a December 12, 2014, reopening was originally eyed to coincide with what would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday. However, various financing and construction issues delayed the reopening.  In July 2016, the Cal Neva was put up for auction. Billionaire Larry Ellison was the sole bidder, purchasing the property for $35.8 million in January 2018. The new Cal Neva offers a refurbished non-smoking casino with table games and slot machines. Further, the resort’s theater — The Showroom, originally imagined and built by Sinatra aka the Sinatra Ballroom — ‘will be carefully restored and upgraded to once again serve as Tahoe’s preeminent entertainment venue, which will also host local community events and recitals.’ A hotel similar to the Cal Neva in appearance and characteristics was featured in the 2018 film "Bad Times at the El Royale". Source: blog.everlasting-star.net