WEIRDLAND: buddy holly
Showing posts with label buddy holly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label buddy holly. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Collapse of the golden age of music recording

The golden age of recorded music: Going back to 1945, by the end of the war, there was a “golden age” of music, the big band era, the beginnings of bebop, the great songwriting partnerships, Broadway musicals, and even the early stirrings of rock n’ roll. It was also the populist height of the music borne of the Depression, the music that came out of the hobo camps, the dust bowl farmers, Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Tennessee Valley Act and so on. It was the music of Woody Guthrie, Jimmy Rodgers, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, and the Carter Family. Quickly told, the English built great speakers and listening consoles so they could hear what the Germans were saying. The Americans in turn created excellent platforms (tape recorders) to record what they heard. Though they developed this technology separately and quite secretly, the apex of these technologies would find themselves together in the recording studios around the world soon after the war. The British and Americans found out how good the German microphones were and how they could be used with British speakers and American tape decks. The Germans were quick to listen through British sound systems. Bebop, Jazz, and the everpopular Jitterbug (also known as the lindy hop) dance, were banned by the Nazi's as being American influences. Members of the French Underground would meet at basement dance clubs (normally underground) or Discotheques. Here they would dance to swing music.

It took the next ten years to tweak the technology, but by the mid 50s and the height of the bebop era, the engineers had become artists of this technology, and the results were some of the best recordings ever. With the addition of multi-track recording, invented by jazz guitarist Les Paul, another golden age of recording began. As a side note, it has been said that the best live recording of the bebop era was recorded at Massey Hall with Charlie Parker – on a plastic saxophone he borrowed for the gig – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell. The album Quintet marked the only time these giants of the era played live together. It was also the period when Deutsche Grammophon began its run as the premier recorder of classical music. Time moves on and into the 60s, a period you all know well, and you can run through your own favourites.

There were great recordings like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles’ Revolver and Sergeant Pepper’s, Who’s Next – jazz recordings, particularly on the ECM label, emerged, and then in the 70s along with 48 track recorders, Supertramp’s Crime of the Century and Roxy Music’s Avalon. The producers and engineers were experts in the studio, and their names were almost as famous as the artists: George Martin, Phil Spector, Glyn Johns, and Phil Ramone to name a few. It is amusing now to see assistant engineers at Abbey Road in lab coats now, but that is how they saw themselves. The accommodation or payment for musicians, creators and works was also well-established in the post-war period through a series of royalties paid by the recording companies to the artists – as well as royalties paid to the artists for radio and television airplay that were monitored by BMI and ASCAP and in Canada by CAPAC and PROCAN, which later became SOCAN. The record companies were notorious for not paying these royalties, but there was a system, and there were lawyers who were there to both secure music contracts and ensure that royalties were paid to recording artists. There was also a formidable force in the musician’s union, which held tight control over negotiating gigs and contracts. 

By the 70s, the music industry was a huge force in our lives. It was the number one entertainment industry in North America, making far more money than movies or television. However there were chinks in the system and changes in technology that indicated further bigger changes to come. In 1969, The Whole Earth Catalogue was published, and the subtitle was “Access to Tools.” In the book, it revealed the first home four-track recording deck put out by Tascam. It was a revolution in the making. No longer did one have to go through the check and balance system of the record companies and their artists and repertoire staff. You didn’t need to secure a record contract. You didn’t need to incur huge costs at a recording studio that would be then set against future royalties. You could do the album yourself without arbiters from the record company. This independent release movement was no threat to the mainstream industry, but as this technology progressed, more would be attracted to the indie movement, and it would seriously threaten the mainstream industry by the 1990s.

Was punk rock the beginning of the end? By the late 70s, the industry was increasingly corrupt and complacent. It was also very expensive to make a recording in the beautiful studios. It was about to blow apart – It is dizzying what happened in a very short period of time. First the punks came along and called the bloat on the musicians and the industry. Groups like the Ramones, The Clash and The Cure ridiculed this sate of the business with rough, loud records reminiscent of the garage bands of early rock n’ roll. The local punk rockers opened and played at clubs that were not associated with the musician’s union; they said, “fuck the union” and basically broke the grip the union had on clubs. I would have to say they were misguided in their disregard for the musician’s union and undermined a support system that had worked to protect musicians. After the punk era, it would never be the same again. We were actually entering an age of missing information. What they told us was the CD was a compact unit with a clearer, cleaner sound. However, with a sampling rate of 44,000 samples per second, there were overtones of sound now missing. There were reverbs that collapsed as they tailed out because the sampling rate was not sufficient to hold them. The sound was cleaner because there was less of it. This new format also did not work with the microphones that had worked so well during the analog tape saturation age. The engineers were now scrambling to figure out how they could make this new cold sounding digital age warmer. 

This was a far cry from the “golden age” of the 1950’s. The analog sound was better. It was fuller and warmer, and it held all the sonic information. The technological changes of the 80s did not stop there. The home recording units in the early 70s developed and blossomed, as musicians and studios realized that a $200,000 Studer tape deck or $100,000 Neve console could be replaced by a much cheaper series of ADATS and less expensive boards. CDs made it costly for indies to stay in the mainstream. Record companies made fortunes during this period reissuing everything that had been on vinyl. Elvis was The King again. He had not left the building. Along with the new digital age came the introduction of video games and home entertainment systems. In 1982 MTV arrived, and in 1984 Much Music hit the airwaves, and another development took place that was to affect music and musicians to this day and beyond. AutoTune and Pro Tools were widely used in record production. Oddly, Pro Tools is missing the one tool The Beatles used on almost every song - Varispeed. That's because computer software is linked to a system clock, and is limited to running on even divisions of that clock. That highly processed sound that Millenials are accustomed to hear barely registers as sounding real.

MTV videos were seen as advertisements for the artists and record companies and, therefore, were non-royalty-bearing. In fact, the musicians had to pay for these videos, and these payments were set against the royalties owed to the artists by the record companies. It was an interesting dilemma because, while one could see the attraction of the music video, it set a precedent about the value of the music, how music might be perceived, and it potentially undermined royalty payments that radio and television had been paying to musicians. The most fateful chapter in this story arrived with the introduction of the home computer, followed by the Internet around 1995. During this dizzying time, cyberspace opened up, and the world truly became the global village that Marshall McLuhan envisaged. Music was now available universally at your fingertips. The age of downloading began, and with it, the notion that music was not only available, but most importantly, free. In quick succession came downloading networks like Napster, cementing this music-should-be-free notion for a generation. The royalty-collecting agencies were caught behind the times, and any litigation against illegal downloading would be years to come. Needless to say, the majority of musicians barely made a taxable income.

Now everybody can make a record – and maybe that’s not a good thing. Studio software like GarageBand was available, thus completing the story that anyone could make music at home. While this democratization of the process was laudable, it led to a glut of dubious releases on the market. While this was going on, big studios were going bankrupt, the musicians union was growing impotent, and in the background, baffling engineers trying to stay on top of their game. The top musicians continued to use analog studios, but they were getting harder to find. At the same time, home video games were improving and threatening to overtake the music industry. CDs continued to sell, though, and with the introduction of new microphones and warming buffers, digital recordings improved. Even this tumultuous period was short-lived as the MP3 format was introduced in 1997 and popularized by Apple’s iPod in 2001. The sample rate of an MP3 is 23,000 compressed samples per second, half the sample rate of a commercial CD and a quarter of the sample rate of a studio quality digital recording. When the audio quality reduced to that of an MP3, music’s value is also reduced. The introduction of the MP3 made record collections obsolete. You could store your entire CD collection on your iPod and later iPad. Free downloading became the way to obtain music as music stores began to disappear across North America. Though musicians continued to release CDs, it became clear that the notion of a recording that had existed for 100 years was in serious trouble.

This trend was symbolically addressed when it was ruled that companies like Napster should be shut down – but really, the horses had been let out of the barn. YouTube arrived and was, until recently, royalty free. In 2010, CD sales dropped 50 per cent and video games had replaced music in homes. In fact, music purchases had dropped to fifth place in the North American entertainment market. Record companies disappeared, and by 2012, Starbucks had become the leading distributor of CDs in North America. In 2010, before his world tour, Prince released his new album free. Radiohead did the same, stating they would make up the difference in t-shirt sales. Music, they said in effect, was free. But only the musical two per cent could afford to say that. Quoting Nikola Tesla: "I don't care that they stole my idea. I care that they don't have any of their own." Between 2010 and 2014, the sale of digital downloads doubled sales of CDs. CD sales peaked in 1999 in the US with $18.9 billion in revenue on an inflation adjusted basis and 938.9M units sold. By 2010 those numbers had fallen to $3.8 billion -- a revenue decline of nearly 80% -- and unit sales had fallen to 253M, down 73%. That's a titanic collapse, and it's a collapse which left little to replace it (as opposed what happened in prior cycles when one format replaced another): Overall inflation adjusted industry revenue in the period fell from from $21.9 billion to $7.9 billion, a 64% decline in the industry as a whole.  Yes, it's harder than ever to make a living off of selling a piece of recorded music. The times have changed, as Robert Harris spoke of on his CBC radio series Twilight of the Gods about the hundred-year rise and fall of recorded music.

If we look back on this conversation, this is exactly the reverse: where the technology was serving the art form. It would appear at this moment that the art form is being dictated by the technology. Young musicians no longer see music as a career choice. And so what of the future? There are signs that the royalty-collecting agencies are beginning to catch up to the myriad array of digital offspring ranging from the internet to satellite television and radio. Some would say that there is more music available now than ever before. And yet, when students in the music faculty at Carleton University were surveyed, not one of them thought they would make a living as a musician in the 21st century; the negative response was 100 per cent. The value of the work is the key phrase here. It is so easy now to create and distribute one’s music, people believe it can’t be worth much, so it must be free. What is lost in this equation is the years of craft it might take to get to a professional level of musicianship and songwriting craft: years in the field, a lifetime spent in the trenches. The future of music? It could happen the same as the theatre confronting the advent of film industry. Yet, since theatre’s re-emergence, it has become a sponsored and often threatened art form, supported by public funds, similar to classical music orchestras. There is considerable evidence that live music will continue to be supported. The future continues to look supportive for music in film, theatre and television. Indeed, many musicians have focused their work on getting their music on television shows, where the economy of scale is huge, and royalties can be bountiful. I think at some point many so-called “non-commercial” musicians will leave the public marketplace and, given their value, elect or hope to be sponsored artists. This has already happened in the jazz world. I think in the future, we must return to valuing the art form. If this conundrum cannot be addressed, I suspect music will be generated by computers programmed by robots in the future, and that will be a very dark future. Music is an art. Social media is not. Source:

Buddy Holly ‎– Memorial Collection (2009): Buddy Holly was one of the half dozen geniuses the '50s propelled out of the American boondocks--in his case, Lubbock, Texas. Delicate yet explosive, nerdy yet masculine, melodic yet skronky, Holly became the early rock'n'roll cynosure and wrote a phenomenal number of excellent songs in the 18 months of his career. The selling point of this 3 CD Collection is 11 "undubbed" early and late recordings. Stripped of bass and drums, his early songs sound more like old-time country music. Buddy Holly rebelled, yes, he really freed himself, but sometimes he was content to just sit there holdin' hands with his girl. Shortly before he died, Buddy Holly got himself a place in the Greenwich Village. Holly wed a Puerto Rican girl--Peggy Sue had gotten married too--and I imagine Holly there, holdin' hands with Maria Elena, while conjuring up rock 'n' strings and thinking ahead of the rest. Nerds loved Buddy Holly for a reason: he played by the rules without letting them stop him. Buddy Holly lives. Don't let anybody tell you different. Source:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Favorite Music: Buddy Holly, Paul McCartney

Network Science and the Effects of Music Preference on Functional Brain Connectivity: Listening to music that is liked or a favorite song affects functional connectivity in regions involved in selfreferential thought and memory encoding, such as the default mode network and the hippocampus. While perhaps everyone intuitively understands the mental experience or feeling when listening to his or her preferred music, whether it is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or Les Miserables, or when listening to their favorite rock song, we show here that this similarity of experience manifests in the brain by engaging the DMN. As the first study to apply network science methods to ‘theory of the mind’, these results provide a glimpse into the neural patterns underlying the emotion-cognitive states associated with listening to preferred and favorite music. Source:

The British musicologist Howard Goodall said about Paul McCartney: "He had an intuitive melodic gift: in terms of tunes, he's one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived." This, Goodall says, set him apart from John Lennon; by way of comparison. Goodall puts McCartney alongside Schubert, Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. "In Puccini's case, you're talking about maybe 20 great tunes. In Schubert's case, maybe 100. But Paul McCartney is up there in the 100+ category." Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, described McCartney's influence/gift this way: "A genius for melody is a strange, surprisingly isolated talent, and doesn’t have much to do with a broader musical gift for composition; Mozart certainly had it, Beethoven not so much. Irving Berlin could barely play the piano and when he did it was only in a single key (F-sharp major: all the black keys), and yet he wrote hundreds of haunting tunes; André Previn, who could do anything musically as a pianist and a conductor, wrote scarcely a single memorable melody, although he did write several shows and many songs. McCartney had the gift in absurd abundance. Someone could get a Ph.D. thesis out of studying the major-minor shifts in his Beatles songs: sometimes the change is from verse to chorus, to mark a change from affirmation to melancholy, as in “The Fool on the Hill”; sometimes it’s in the middle of a phrase, as in “Penny Lane,” to capture a mixed mood. These are things that trained composers do by rote; McCartney did them by feel—like Irving Berlin writing for Fred Astaire, he was a rare thing, a naturally sophisticated intuitive. In 1966, the critic Kenneth Tynan, a hard man to please, proposed doing a profile of Paul, in preference to John, because he was “by far the most interesting of the Beatles and certainly the musical genius of the group.” Source:

Philip Norman admits in his biography of Paul McCartney that in his earlier biography of the Beatles called “Shout!”, he accepted the cheap stereotype of Paul as a pop trivialist, in comparison with his edgy partner John Lennon. Paul was happy to push the envelope but didn’t support John when he wanted to pose nude on an album cover or insisted that an eight minute sound collage be inserted into a Beatles album. Paul certainly didn’t support John’s heroin addiction. Now Philip Norman sees that Paul McCartney was not only a man of genius but also someone who has handled the madness of fame exceptionally well. Paul is depicted as a caring father and grandfather, a man who made a bad rebound marriage after losing his much loved wife Linda, but who has otherwise spent the past decades entertaining new generations of fans. As Norman shows, McCartney has worked so hard at seeming dismayingly normal that it is easy to miss the least ordinary thing about him: the magnitude of his melodic gift. In 1970, McCartney and the Eastmans launched a lawsuit to break up the Beatles partnership. That became the trigger for John Lennon’s toxic onslaughts against his former partner, feeding all the hostile stereotypes that Norman is now trying, decades later, to remedy.

Seen from the 21st century, the great rupture of early rock and roll looks more ideological than musical, more a matter of attitude and emotion. Every Night by Paul MacCartney sounds like a continuation from Everyday by Buddy Holly and Kiss Me Baby by The Beach Boys. Elvis was The King and all that, but Buddy Holly is more beloved among people who actually know a substantial amount about the history of rock. Holly, along with Chuck Berry, was a real pioneer, playing a chord and hammering the sixth note of that chord on and off in a regular, rhythmic pattern. In the opening pages of Peter Guralnick’s “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll”, Sam Phillips is equated with Walt Whitman, William Faulkner and Mark Twain. Phillips was not a very good businessman. Other independent labels, like Atlantic, managed to keep their artists and to thrive well into the 1960s. But Phillips got out of the business just as the pop-music revolution that he helped make happen was starting to cash out in a big way. Which would have been the destiny of Buddy Holly if he had walked by Sun Records? Using The Beach Boys' memorable song (and Paul McCartney's favorite song ever): God Only Knows.

By 1950, most people listening to local radio stations. And ninety-six per cent of homes in the United States had a radio. Before the 1940s, radio was dominated by national broadcast networks like CBS, NBC, and Mutual. As a consequence of an F.C.C. policy designed to break up this oligopoly, the licensing of local stations increased from around eight hundred in 1940 to more than two thousand in 1949. By 1940, there were close to half a million jukeboxes in the United States. This is why jukebox plays were charted in Billboard: they were market indicators. In an unsympathetic biography of Elvis Presley, published in 1981, Albert Goldman has Phillips referring to “the nigger sound”; Guralnick makes it clear that Sam Phillips didn’t talk or think that way. And Guralnick is confident that Phillips didn’t talk about the music recording in terms of getting rich, either. 

Elvis Presley was a walk-in, showing up at the Memphis Recording Service in the summer of 1953, when he was eighteen, to make a record for his mother's birthday. He paid four dollars to record two songs, “My Happiness,” which had been a hit for several artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” an old Ink Spots song. Whether Sam Phillips was in the booth that day or not later became a matter of acrimonious dispute, but someone wrote next to Presley’s name, “Good ballad singer. Hold.” A year later, Phillips invited Presley back to try out a ballad he’d discovered. The song didn’t seem to work, and Phillips had Presley run through all the material he knew. After three hours, Phillips thought of putting Presley together with a couple of country-and-Western musicians—Scotty Moore, an electric guitarist, and Bill Black, who played standup bass. After many takes, they had a record: an up-tempo cover of a bluegrass song called “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and, in July 1954, Elvis Presley’s first single came on the market. In Sun’s promotional campaign, Phillips emphasized the record’s “three-way” appeal: to pop, hillbilly, and rhythm-and-blues listeners. Elvis was a crossover artist. He had “a white voice, a Negro rhythm, and borrows in mood and emphasis from country styles,” a Memphis local paper explained. He finally made it onto the national country-and-Western chart in July, 1955, with “Baby Let’s Play House.” Two months later, Sam Phillips sold Presley’s contract to RCA Victor for thirty-five thousand dollars. Source:

Part of Buddy Holly's appeal was the impression he made of being an 'ordinary' fellow, not outlandish like Little Richard or Jerry Lee, or sexy like Elvis or Eddie Cochran. His big glasses and lankiness made him look sort of goofy, and yet he still managed to be cool! His music was deceptively simple (a lesson that Lennon & McCartney benefitted from). Indeed, his lyrics are heartfelt, honest and deep, with a twist of humor. He wrote about experiences and feelings that are common to us all, which is why his music has endured. With his black-framed glasses, sharp suits and tousled hair, Buddy Holly looked like any other earnest young man entering adulthood in the late 1950s. Yet Holly's approach to rock music was anything but conventional. An inspired, fluid, and nimble guitarist, Holly brought velocity to his rockabilly-inspired riffs. Holly's voice could also have a gritty edge (the ragers "Ready Teddy" and "Rave On"), although his gulping vocal delivery and rhythmic contortions made his songs unusual. Holly was a sympathetic and expressive singer: On Everyday a sparse song driven by clapping percussion and a twinkling celesta, he was wistful about the possibility of finding his perfect romantic match. Holly sang about important topics (love, lust and loss) and his tunes favored lyrics full of dramatic declarations. Modern Don Juan lamented miscommunication in romance; (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care celebrates how opposites attract; Ting-A-Ling didn't shy away from expressing sexual desire; In That'll Be The Day he swears that he'll die from heartbreak if the girl he loves ever leaves him. Buddy Holly opened for Elvis Presley on 15 October 1955 at The Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX.  

Holly's first label deal on 26 January 1956 with Decca Records was through his agent Eddie Crandall, who became his first agent after having heard him at the Haley concert. That contract fizzled out after a year and no chart hits. Still, Holly kept plugging away: On February 25, 1957, he recorded "That'll Be The Day," in Clovis, New Mexico, with producer and future manager Norman Petty. A veteran of the Nashville guitar scene, George Gruhn, said “There could be any number of reasons why Holly would have wanted to play a Stratocaster, including its visual aesthetic and chordal intonation.” The Stratocaster guitar featured Leo Fender’s revolutionary six-piece saddle, which allowed for precise intonation of each of the instrument’s strings. In 1958, while living in New York City, Holly did purchase a Magnatone amp for home use, but he typically gigged with Fender amplifiers that suited his Stratocaster and twangy music to a T. 

The Buddy Holly Story (1978), which won the Academy Award for adapted score, is an entertaining and dynamic film, but contains quite a few errors and distortions from Buddy Holly's life and career. Now that “Clear Lake” is being produced by Prix Productions with a $12 million budget in association with Maria Elena Holly, the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation and BMG, we hope this project will translate into a more accurate portrait of Holly's personality. As some Holly's friends from Lubbock objected to Gary Busey's performance, Buddy Holly didn't look so sullen and irate as he's shown in the Steve Rash's film. Part of Holly's appeal lay in his natural charm, friendly attitude towards his audience and a tinge of innocence that are often replaced by arrogance and temper tantrums by an abrasive Busey in the film. Jerry Allison called it "The Buddy Hollywood Story", complaining he wasn't a hotheaded racist like he was portrayed by Don Stroud. “I think the movie makes Buddy look like a personal and musical tyrant, which he was not. He was very definite about his musical ideas but he was also a very warm, nice, human individual.” In another scene, the two Crickets pay a visit to Maria Elena while Holly is embarked on his final tour, and the three talk about an imminent reunion when Buddy returns. But this scene was fabricated. John Goldrosen (author of The Buddy Holly Story book) said he was very unhappy with the movie: “The producers admitted they were making The Glenn Miller Story of the Seventies. They chose to reinforce a lot of rock & roll clichés but they could have told the truth and still be commercial. They wound up hurting people. The Holleys were portrayed wrongly. The church scene was wrong. Buddy was a member of the Tabernacle Baptist Church and was close to his pastor, the Reverend Ben Johnson. Buddy always gave ten percent of his earnings to the church.”

Apparently Sonny Curtis phoned Maria Elena looking for Buddy on the night of the plane crash. Jerry Allison said he tried calling the Surf Ballroom to reach Buddy, but he'd already left. As with La Bamba (with features an aggressive, oversexed Ritchie Valens), The Buddy Holly Story is rife with errors (you can see mountains on the horizon in plain Lubbock!). At the roller rink scene, Buddy plays a Fender "Bronco" guitar. The Bronco was not manufactured by Fender until the early 1970s!  Buddy and Maria Elena are shown at a 3D movie date in 1958. These type of movies were popular in 1953 and 1954. No mainstream 3D movies were produced in the '50s after 1954. Also, as the tour bus is towing past the auditorium before Buddy's final concert, the phone number on the side of the tow truck is made up entirely of digits. In 1959, the first two digits of all phone numbers consisted of letters. All-numeric phone numbers didn't begin until the mid-'60s!

For the purpose of story condensation, Cindy Lou (Buddy's blonde girlfriend played by Amy Johnston), seems an unlikely composite character of Buddy's conventional girlfriend Echo McGuire, Peggy Sue Gerron, plus the 'wild girl from Lubbock' who would be willing to have sex with Buddy in the car backseat. Despite a pretty crappy script, Gary Busey's spirited musical act sort of saves the film by communicating Holly's fierce eccentricity onstage. Norman Petty threatened legal action because he was afraid he would be shown as a shady crook, which would have been right. A film about Buddy Holly, and especially about an era fundamentally wrapped in jouissance and optimism, deserved a more poetic and careful approach. Robert Gittler who wrote the screenplay for The Buddy Holly Story—based loosely on The Buddy Holly Story biography by John Goldrosen—committed suicide two days before the theatrical release of the film (18 May 1978). Still, The Buddy Holly Story holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

As a Buddy Holly fan from Melbourne (Vinyl Man) wrote: "Closing my eyes and imagining myself at a sock-hop dancing with a pretty girl in a poodle skirt was always good for what ailed me. Did anyone leave behind as many classic hits in so short a space of time as Buddy? His music is evergreen and singular. That very idealized image I had of those days was immensely comforting. That brings to mind another thing about Buddy Holly: I can’t remember a time when his story didn’t speak to me in a very powerful way. I’m pretty sure he’s the only of my musical heroes about which I can say that. I could always imagine myself in the happy ending of a fifties movie with his music as the soundtrack, while at the same time I could make the unfortunate but effective analogy of his death to the end of America’s innocence."

In The Theory of Everything (2014) Steven Noble dressed Eddie Redmayne in a classic white-tie, black-tail morning suit that felt “slightly shabby and slightly ill-fitting, which is what I wanted,” Noble said. In his head, the suit had been passed down from Stephen Hawking’s father and grandfather. Since Stephen Hawking came from a bohemian family, he aimed to make Hawking, in his Buddy Holly glasses and ill-fitting hand-me-down, look a little more eccentric than the other Cambridge undergrads of the time. The drama chronicles Stephen and Jane’s great love story, in spite of the unthinkable physical obstacles they faced, and there was one scene in particular that Noble used to telegraph that great romance with clothing—the Cambridge May Ball, which was one of the couple’s first dates.

In the Surf Ballroom lobby, walking through the front, directly to the left, there is a vintage pay phone booth. A placard reads that this is the telephone where Buddy Holly made his final telephone call to his wife, Maria Elena. This call has become embossed in the Holly legend and took on steam in 1978 with the biopic “The Buddy Holly Story.” In the film, Holly has a tender scene where he calls his wife prior to taking the stage of the Surf Ballroom. Maria Elena herself has always maintained that this telephone call happened. In Goldrosen and Beecher’s “Remembering Buddy,” she went into some detail about this final talk with her husband. “He told me what an awful tour it had been. The buses were dirty and cold, and things just weren’t as had been promised. He said everybody on the tour was really disgusted. Then he said that the tour was behind schedule and he had to go on ahead of the others to the next stop to make arrangements for the show. He didn’t tell me that he was going to fly. I said, ‘Why should you go?’ And he said, ‘There’s nobody else to do it.’” An article from the February 4, 1959 copy of the New York Journal American seems to dispute this memory that Holly’s widow maintains. The article featured a black and white photo of Maria Elena captioned “But he didn't call.”

Recalling her memories to Goldrosen many years later about her last call with Buddy Holly, had Maria Elena simply mixed up her dates, mistaking the phone call from Green Bay as being from Clear Lake? Holly had wanted to fly out of Green Bay after the Riverside Ballroom show, so perhaps the content of that call happened just as Maria Elena described it but, after twenty years, her dates were just off by a day. Holly had just been left word via cablegrams from Norman Petty that he was illegally using the group name of the Crickets on this tour. That certainly would have put a damper on his mood when Holly arrived at the Surf Ballroom. Allen Bloom, the GAC man who helped put the Winter Dance Party together had passed away by the time I had started my research, but his son Randy was crucial in helping me direct me to an unused recorded interview. Perhaps through listening to Bloom's recall of memories of GAC’s rock and roll days, I can figure out what exactly went wrong with that Winter Dance Party tour. So, I play the tape and listen to Allen Bloom lay out a diagram for disaster. Allen Bloom: “In the fall of 1958, Buddy Holly split up with the Crickets and was alienated from his family because he married a Hispanic girl, Maria Elena. He was also splitting up with his manager, Norman Petty. Buddy came to us and we were about to sign Buddy up to manage him. Buddy had no money and so in January we arranged for a small tour. We had produced our first Biggest Show of Stars in February of 1956. This show was with Bill Haley and the Comets, Roy Hamilton, Chuck Berry... And everybody in New York, all the agency people, thought that we were going to lose all the money we didn’t have.” All of Buddy Holly’s tours since signing with Coral and Brunswick had been put on by GAC, so it was no surprise that Holly would approach them for a new tour as he was struggling to keep afloat.

According to the new book Buddy Holly: Legacies (2019) by Roddy Jordan, 90% of Maria Elena's recollections are true. In New York Holly had formed a new publishing company called "Maria Music." A new-found surprise is to learn that Aunt Provi Garcia (who erroneusly in the 1978 film is named Mrs. Santiago) did not have any family ties with Maria Elena. Also, just the opposite to the old-fashioned portrait of Maria Elena's Aunt, the real Provi Garcia was a divorced independent woman who had left his family behind in Puerto Rico. The reason why Provi took Maria Elena in her life was due to the friendship shared between the modest Santiago family and the middle-class Garcia clan. Another tremendous finding is that Maria Elena (and most likely Buddy Holly) was being investigated in 1958 by the FBI agents who opened a file on her. Allegedly, Buddy Holly was about to testify in the Payola scandal in the hopes that his songs would play on the radio again. Maria Elena had reportedly dated Jack Negron, a music industry insider who knew the intricacies of the Payola activities. The F.B.I. report is redacted but you can just see part of Jack Negron's name. 

On the Apartment tapes, in the background chat, when Maria Elena brings up the name Jack Negron, Buddy seems uncomfortable. Buddy might have a double motive for this reaction, first the stress of giving testimony against the practices of Payola, and second he might be jealous of the past relationship of his wife with Negron. Maria Elena (whose real birth name was simply Elena Santiago), said she had ambitions to go to Broadway, but Buddy discouraged her. "You don't need to do that," she quoted him. When she was all dressed up and ready to go out, Elena Santiago was quite a stunning looking girl, and understandably Holly had motives for his jealousy. Although Buddy Holly was more progressive than most of his fellow rockers, his traditional side resurfaced sometimes. As Buddy's widow, Elena Holly has every right to proceed as she sees it fit. However, it is the way she has disconnected herself from both the Holley family and the Lubbock fans that some people do not like. One has to ask, why has she gone down this pathway? Some detractors have speculated Holly was thinking of filing for divorce. Due, perhaps to his neurotic jealousy? The fact is nobody has found any proof of a divorce petition or file, just hearsay. ―"In Flanders Field: Death and Rebirth of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson" (2017) by Ryan Vandergriff

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Fifties Musical Heroines, Us and Generation X

Eileen Barton ‎– Everybody's Buddy (Epic Records) ‎– arranged by Marion Evans Orchestra (1957), written by Moose Charlap (Broadway composer best known for Peter Pan, 1954), with lyrics by Lee Adams.

Aesthetically, Buddy Holly might have been the most unlikely looking rock 'n' roll star of the 1950s. But he was, after Elvis Presley, unquestionably the most influential. In the fifties, Eisenhower was in the White House, Ricky loved Lucy, Pepsodent toothpaste erased the yellow teeth stains, and $10 in 1950 was equivalent in purchasing power to $104.44 in 2019. To be sure, in the whole VistaVision expanse of progress, stability, enlightenment, and shiny chromium plating, this new thing called rock 'n' roll was toiling to survive. Those three-chord tremolo rockabilly love ballads had a balm effect to counter the atomic bomb fears. Dave Laing's essay The Sound of Our Time (1969) implicitly promotes the idea of rock and roll in general, and Buddy Holly's music in particular, as an avant-garde art. In The Marxist Theory of Art (1978) Laing presents Julia Kristeva's account of the challenge the 'poetic language' of the literary avant-garde poses to Western culture. This challenge results from the way it contests the dominance of symbolic language, instead privileging semiotic communication, 'in the form of rhythms, intonations, lexical and rhetorical transformations'. Dave Laing had earlier noted the challenge posed by rock music to traditional Western song, specifically to the ballad, which until after the Second World War was the 'mainstay of popular song'. This ancient art form derived from the 'Courtly Code of Love' was formulated in mediaeval Western Europe. More specifically, Laing argues that Holly's distinctive vocal techniques undermine the coherence of the singing tone, on which the traditional ballad depends. 'Holly's approach was entirely new. The straight singing of a lyric is continually punctuated by exclamatory effects of various kinds. The voice suddenly swoops upwards or downwards, syllables are lengthened to cover three or more notes (as in 'ba-ay-by'), and sometimes phrases are spoken during instrumental solos'. In his analysis of Buddy Holly's vocal tecniques, Laing directly contrasts the traditional singer, who seeks 'to hold a note with maximum emotional effect', with Holly, who does not seem to seek that effect.

Few notes are held for more than one or two beats in Holly's records, so they avoid the overpowering emotion of the ballads typical of that period. Holly's listeners are not necessarily overwhelmed, as they used to feel by listening to a traditional ballad, but they have their attention redirected by the frequent changes of tone, pitch, and phrasing. For Laing, Holly's wide variety of vocal techniques is radical in that it precludes the sustained unity necessary for the representation of a homogeneous emotion. It is true that in ordinary usage an emotion, such as 'grief' or 'love', has to endure in time, unlike a sensation such as 'pain', which may be momentary (see Wittgenstein, 1968). Laing is in part justified in arguing that if Holly's style consistently avoids sustained notes, this constitutes a refusal of traditional sentimentality, since 'some of the vocal techniques Holly employs cannot be said to have emotional correlates in real life.' A transcendent type of idealisation of a woman is, in Laing's account, the prototype for the muses romantically celebrated throughout the traditional Western ballad. However, rock and roll music, too, conjures up idealisations of women, which become transcendent objects of veneration. Famous among them is Buddy Holly's 'Peggy Sue'. As Jonathan Cott says, Peggy Sue is "mysterious, hardly there," but she's revived and recreated in a succession of other songs: by Holly (in Peggy Sue Got Married), and subsequently by Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens and the Beatles.

Holly's famous 'hiccup' signature, or in the sudden glides from deep bass to falsetto (and back again), reveals the child inside the man, and the man inside the child. Up to this point, the lyrics in "Peggy Sue" have performed a step-by-step narrative transformation, as follows: verse 1 boy talks to boy about his loneliness; verse 2 man expresses desire for woman in quasi-religious terms; verse 3 a father figure talks affectionately to an infantilized girl; verse 4 young man uncertainly confesses true love to a girl. In a sense, defences are progressively stripped away as the narrative approaches an actual encounter. He is excitedly anticipating the transition from talking about 'My Peggy Sue' to calling her that to her face. The same happens in bars 6-7 of verse 2, where the phrase is similarly ambiguous in facilitating a transition from addressing Peggy Sue as absent in the verse, to addressing her as present in the refrain. Here the excitement is increased by the further off-beat 'P'heggy' in the preceding phrase (the 'Oh P'heggy' of bars 4-5). But after bar 6 of verse 2, the off-beat 'P' never reappears.

Musically, the syncopation is here left unresolved, making 'Peggy Sue' sound like a question, or a call expecting a response. It is tempting to see the association of 'Sue', 'gal' and 'love' as indicating the femininity of the syncopated rhythms, with 'yes' being Sue's verbal response to the singer. Laing praises Holly for breaking with the transcendentalism of the traditional ballad, modelled on a Virgin Mary like figure. In Peggy Sue, Holly omits all descriptions of the character of his heroine, while he seems to grow from stuttering boy (verse 1) through eager anticipation (verse 3) to self-confident man (verse 6). --"Pity Peggy Sue" (1984) by Barbara Bradby & Brian Torode

There is some controversy associated with Peggy Sue Gerron's book because it is unauthorized. Buddy Holly's wife disavowed the book and the Buddy Holly Center refuses to sell it (mostly because of an arrangement with his estate). Despite those puritanical values, sex actually surpassed drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and revolutionary politics as the leading obsession of the fifties, and sexual implications were perceived even where none existed. Peggy Sue Gerron details the era when young women were expected to keep an image of virtue, a façade that served mostly for social decorum; however she describes her adventurous spirit (she was a bit of a wild gal) and seems constantly jealous of Maria Elena's innate sophistication. As a reader comments of Ms Gerron's book: It's hard to know where to begin with this 'memoir'.  I'd love to sit down with Jerry Allison or some relatives of the Holley family. Especially Maria Elena Holly. 'Pretty' Peggy Sue, she is not. I've never seen such a plain Jane so full of herself. She claims she turned on Buddy and Jerry to R&B. There hardly were white teenagers in Lubbock in the 1950's buying records by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. They were considered 'dirty music' and I even doubt the record stores in Lubbock stocked these. She is naïve in one paragraph, and worldly in the next. She is sent to Catholic girls school in California because 'her parents are fighting and it's upsetting her.' When girls in the 50's and 60's got sent to Catholic school--it was because they were wild or contemptuous of their parents. Peggy Sue smoked Viceroys (she seems proud of smoking such a harsh cigarette) and she drank often. Figure it out again--no one was sent off from Lubbock to California out of her hometown high school because she was a good girl.

Although Peggy Sue remembers Buddy Holly fondly, I feel sorry for Jerry Allison. She denigrates him and admits she used him to get out of her home and into his group (The Crickets), maybe hoping for a music business career. She says over and over 'our music', like she had contributed to the Clovis sessions. None of her so-called private conversations with Buddy Holly can be documented or verified. It's all hearsay. Why would Holly have about 30 minutes of conversation with Peggy Sue and then fall in love with her? Let's not forget Peggy Sue was his drummer friend's wife. Holly never contacted Peggy Sue back after the so-called elevator speech (when he allegedly tells her along the lines he's going to take care of her). She's clearly making all this up to enhance her story--which she's told so long it's become real to her. Why did she elope with Jerry Allison? Good girls didn't elope. Why did she stay with Allison although she couldn't stand him? It's because Peggy Sue Gerron was probably a user and a hanger on. I truly doubt Buddy Holly even paid attention to her except to be polite. After the wedding night in Acapulco, Maria Elena provokes again Peggy Sue's envy when she implies how 'considerate' and 'passionate' Buddy was under the sheets. It's also well documented by Joe B. and Larry Holley that the song was originally Cindy Lou for Buddy's niece, but Buddy changed it on Allison's request. It could have been Mary Lou or Betty Sue. Gerron was fortunate it was Peggy Sue. I'd love to see her so-called journals. She dishes on people who cannot comment back, she praises and loves Norman & Vi Petty, who cheated Buddy out of millions. Source: 

Johnnie Walker’s BBC Radio 2 – 8 July 2018, in Harrow (UK). This is a transcript of part of the conversation, that ran throughout the show, between Johnnie Walker (JW) and his guest Chris Difford (CD). CD: I’ve been running songwriter workshops for 26 years, and just recently I did one a couple of weeks back, supported by the Buddy Holly Foundation. JW: And what great people are involved with the Buddy Holly Foundation? CD: Well, they are amazing. They are raising tons of money for research of cancer. And just recently Peter Bradley, who runs the Buddy Holly Foundation, was in Dallas, Texas, and Maria Elena, Buddy’s widow, went to the cupboard and brought out a box and said, ‘You may as well have these,’ and revealed six reel-to-reel tapes. Three of them were demos of Buddy Holly, which I think no one has ever heard, and other recordings of him at the Palladium, which the BBC archives do not own. I’ve listened some demos and they are the most extraordinary thing. The unpublished demos probably contain Buddy’s version of Stay Close To Me, Ah-Ha, Drown in my own tears, Cindy Lou (calypso version), Gotta Travel On, his 1959 concert of Eau Claire Wisconsin, and an acoustic version of True Love Ways.

There are many ways to interpret Jordan Peele’s Us and the scissor-wielding doppelgängers who dwell within it. The subterranean shadow people relegated to living in America’s collective basement can be viewed as the “lower” class that has historically been ignored in this country. The most immediate, obvious take on Us, and one that is completely valid, is to view it through that lens, as a statement on the insidiousness of oppression. The Reds may represent the failure of all of us to lift each other up. But the disturbing beauty of Peele’s second big-screen horror project is that it’s possible to glean more than one meaning from it. Which is why I also view it as a commentary on Generation X, a marginalized group that’s long realized the promises made during its youth will never be fulfilled. The Generation X has been overlooked by the Millenials, who, according to a new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, those born in the 1990s are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s as Gen Xers were. Compared with baby boomers, millennials look like nuns and priests. The proffered reasons for millennial abstinence? A culture of overwork and an obsession with career status, an online-dating milieu, and above all, an uptick in the use of libido-busting antidepressants and anxieties surrounding sexual consent.

Adelaide’s dad wins her a prize: a Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” T-shirt, featuring an image from the King of Pop’s groundbreaking video. First, the ‘50s horror movie within the video, when he comes out as a werewolf (“I’m not like other guys”), and later, when he reveals himself to be a zombie with killer dance moves. The fact that, as Leaving Neverland has recently driven home, real-life Jackson may have had another monstrous alter ego adds another, likely unintended, layer to Peele’s decision to clothe his heroine in “Thriller” at the moment when her mischievous other, the so-called “Red,” succeeds in taking over her identity. Jackson's personality split between the public angel and the private devil suggests he had a dark side which he kept hidden. What the hell did Hands Across America have to do with anything? That event, a fund-raiser for America’s hungry and homeless organized by the USA for Africa organization, took a total of 15 minutes to unfold. Fifteen minutes: The same amount of time it took for young Adelaide to go missing, the number of minutes it was supposed to take the police to get to the Wilsons’ house, an amount very close to the run time of Michael Jackson’s video for “Thriller,” and how long it took in May 1986 to, allegedly, make the world better for the less fortunate. 

But then Adelaide got older and she realized that life wasn’t improving, she was just stuck. She had been forgotten, left out, quite literally replaced, and the world kept moving on without her as if she did not exist. Certainly that captures the sentiments of many in the lower and middle classes in this country. But if it doesn’t also describe the feelings of the perpetually overlooked Gen Xers I don’t know what does. Generation X has a reputation for being cynical. Certainly the part of Adelaide’s plan that involves mass murder qualifies as cynical and dark. But there’s part of her that’s still fixated on the idea of Hands Across America and finally seeing it happen. The closing shots of the film, when we see all those red jumpsuited doppelgängers holding hands as far as the eye can see, suggests the second part of her mission was accomplished. Unfortunately, the original Adelaide isn’t able to kill the original Red and claim the spot that should have been hers. Red holds on to her role as Adelaide. And that feels right for a film that, on one of its many levels, functions as an allegory for the Generation X experience. The real Adelaide, our Gen Xer heroine, has been edged out of American life. Source:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly: Alternative Rock Masculinity, The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour

Our technology is advanced in 2019, but our yearning for yesteryear is stronger than ever. “The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour” is going to be a joint trek “headlined” by the holograms of music icons Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. The tour — which features a live band and backing singers, along with remastered audio — will take place in October, running throughout both Europe and North America. Brian Becker, chairman of BASE Hologram, said in a release: “These two men were forward-thinkers who defined the genre of Rock and Roll, from writing to recording to the standard band configuration, and they influenced everyone from Elvis to The Beatles. Now to be able to recapture that magic on a grand scale and let their fans see them together will be something truly special.” “Buddy and Roy were Texans who shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s creative musical genius and songwriting abilities,” said Holly’s wife Maria Elena Holly in her press release. “Their long-time fans and a new generation of fans will now have the opportunity to see these great legends perform together in a unique setting, showcasing two of the finest, most influential, and beloved artists in music history.” Source:

In 1960 rock 'n' roll music was diminished by two watershed events: Elvis Presley's enlistment in the army and Buddy Holly's death. Roy Orbison had close personal ties with both Presley and Holly. When listening to "Only the Lonely," Orbison's first smash hit in 1960, we wondered who sang such a strange song—which sounded more like two songs than one—so beautifully? In 1988, in Newsweek's Orbison obituary, David Gates claimed that, along with Presley and Holly, Orbison "elevated a form of regional music into something approaching art song." Just as it has been important for classical musicians and scholars to understand the accomplishments of Beethoven or Mozart, it is equally important for scholars of popular culture to understand the accomplishments of Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison. Jazz musician Don Byron made a compelling case for collapsing these distinctions between "high" and "low," "art song" and "popular music," and even for erasing the artificial line we draw between classical, pop, and jazz music. We cannot simply assert that rock is a serious art without making an analysis of the accomplishments within the genre. In the 1998 issue of Entertainment Weekly, an article entitled "Orbison's Last Dream" concludes, "In the end it's that goose-bump-inducing voice that endures. Does anyone who's heard it need to ask why Elvis Presley once called Roy Orbison the greatest singer in the world?" Why we shouldn't think of producing a new recording using an old vocal track as equivalent to a theater director's staging a new production of a Shakespeare play? If it is the voice that endures and causes the goosebumps, then why shouldn't that enduring voice be re-played?

"The grain of the voice," in philosopher Roland Barthes's memorable phrase, escapes the language of analysis. It is so much easier to talk about the aesthetics and ideology of lyrics than to characterize the accomplishments of a voice. Listening to Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison is not a form of "slumming," or a case of arrested development; indeed, it is much like listening to Mozart. In 1996 Simon Frith argued in The Sociology of Rock: "There are obvious differences between classical and country or rock music, but that doesn't mean that the artistic processes are different." After leaving Sun Records, Roy Orbison—following the lead of Elvis Presley—signed with RCA, recording six songs produced by Chet Atkins. These songs supply an important link between Orbison's rockabilly period and the later Monument ballads, such as "Paper Boy" which reveals a growing poetic awareness in the lyrics and the inclusion of delicate motifs. Roy Orbison and his first wife Claudette Frady were getting divorced in November 1964 over her infidelities, but they reconciled 10 months later. Tragedy struck on June 6, 1966, however, when Orbison and Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tennessee. Claudette died in a motorcycle accident that occurred as she rode by Orbison's side, and later two of his three children died in a 1968 fire that destroyed his Nashville home. 

In 1988, Roy Orbison's obituaries confirmed just how widespread and pervasive his tragic image had become. People magazine ran as front-cover headline, "The Haunted Life of Rock Legend Roy Orbison," declaring his death the final tragedy of a quite sad life. Orbison's ubiquitous black clothes and dark glasses, adopted in 1963, only reinforced his image as a dark, tragic figure. Thanks in part to David Lynch, Orbison was later repositioned as a major figure in the history of rock 'n' roll, on a scale close with Elvis Presley and the Beatles. In an article on Orbison's music, occasioned by the release of In Dreams: Greatest Hits (1987), Dave Marsh hailed Roy Orbison as "one of the greatest singers of all time," a view he reiterated after Orbison's death, when he called him "more than just the owner of the greatest white pop voice." Orbison's private world of loneliness and dreams contains an important, pervasive element of sexual masochism that had gone totally unnoticed. Dwight Yoakam described Orbison's voice as that of the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window. In a related vein, Bruce Springsteen, in his 1987 speech inducting Roy Orbison into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, said Orbison had the ability "to sound like he'd dropped in from another planet".

Most rock and roll singers of the period, most convincingly Elvis Presley, strutted around the stage, posturing in a sexually aggressive and overtly macho style. Critics have long pointed out that the display of the male body in rock 'n' roll is feminizing actually, for the male body becomes the object of an erotic spectacle like that traditionally reserved in Western culture for women. In the case of Buddy Holly, he channeled his (hetero) sexual power through his guitar, not displaying his body, so paradoxically Holly—although nerdy and shy—didn't look as feminized as Elvis. Buddy Holly held onto his inner masculinity, avoiding the dictates of rock and roll as erotic assimilation. Roy Orbison was also different from rock's macho performers, and this contrast can be seen in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1988), a documentary about Chuck Berry, in which we can compare Roy Orbison's scenes with those of Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee, with his trademark cigar and bourbon in hand, talks in typically braggadocio fashion. While Roy Orbison appears in a black leather jacket, in fact totally enshrouded in black. However, he neither looks nor acts tough. 

Peter Watrous wrote in 1988: "Of all the rock-and-roll singers of his generation, Roy Orbison was the least obsessed with masculinity; the music, his voice and words are unmenacing and complex." By not creating and circulating sexually desirable images of himself in fan magazines and on record albums, by minimizing the sexual display of his body in performance and hiding behind impenetrable dark glasses, by singing in an eerie high range—and most of all by writing songs explicitly about male anxiety—Roy Orbison created a significant alternative to the sexual image of traditional male rock stars. In an obituary, the jazz magazine Down Beat claimed that "Elvis Presley said Orbison had the grandest voice in pop music. A listen to 'Only the Lonely,' 'Blue Bayou,' 'Oh, Pretty Woman,' and 'Crying' proves it." Roy Orbison was unique among major rock stars of the time in both his absence from the fan magazines and the de-emphasis on his looks as a major component of his image. Not even he had a press agent, something he would be proud of in later years.

In the rock 'n' roll scene, Buddy Holly also became associated with thick black frames similar to those that Roy Orbison would wear, and pictures show Holly wearing sunglasses indoors. The black frames gave Holly an air of coolness and a quasi intellectual aura. Orbison's dark glasses signified less that he was cool than, hidden behind them, he looked at the world darkly. David Lynch showed the dark, sexual side of the themes of "In Dreams," which he used in his cult film Blue Velvet (1986). Orbison's music not only sprang from loneliness and darkness; it was embraced by the same lonely darkness. Predictably, much of the initial reaction to Blue Velvet centered on its bizarreness. The Arizona Daily Star's critic Bob Campbell changed his mind about the film after he saw it a second time, whereupon he discovered that the film was "fiercely moral, and that explains its stunning force." 

Orbison's vocal range was extraordinary by any standard. "It's Over," for example, moves from D3 to B-flat 5 in full voice! This is an octave plus a fifth, or a thirteen-diatonic-note range in full voice. B-flat 5 is an octave above the full voice of a baritone, a fourth above the full voice of a tenor, and it is beyond the range of the full voice of an alto. Suffice it to say that few performers can do this. "Only the Lonely" has an even greater range. Here Orbison sings from B-flat 3 to C5, the C5 in falsetto. This represents two octaves plus a note, or a total of a seventeen-note range. Evan Eisenberg's analysis of Louis Armstrong located recorded music on a continuum within two poles, with what he calls the "rasp" at one extreme and the "bel canto" at the other. Such singers as Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan typify the rasp, and singers like Paul McCartney and Roy Orbison typify the bel canto (literally, "beautiful singing"). There is a tendency to see the 'rasp' sound as closer to quintessential rock 'n' roll and the 'bel canto' voice as more closely related to the classical tradition, but the "pretty" voice of Paul McCartney, for example, is also capable of producing a raspy, tortured scream ("Hey Jude"). Dave Marsh breaks Orbison's songs into two groups, those dealing with pain and loss and those dealing with dreaming; Marsh argues that "Orbison's music suggests a way to absorb a very intense pain and stay alive: through dreams." Orbison constructed a complex masochist aesthetic based on a dark, passive, frightened, overly emotional figure, who either reveled in pain or lost himself in a world of dreams. For Orbison, rock 'n' roll was never primarily about sexuality as conventionally constructed and displayed. 

Orbison wrote many of his hits, so he was an early archetype, along with Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, of the singer-songwriter pioneer. "Twinkle Toes" supplies a complex variation on his themes and makes clear how, in addition to dreaming about his role in saving the female figure, the Orbison persona identifies with this woman. The song is about a go-go dancer and the singer sings to her while she dances. The woman is lonely and crying, or at least the singer thinks she is. He describes her as someone whose carefree exterior masks an inner sadness: "Yeah, behind the smile, I know you're crying." Again he offers emotional support, telling her to be tough and hang on. The song concludes with his fantasy of saving her; he tells her to get ready, 'I bet I take you home tonight / now when the dance is through / You wont be lonely, you won't be blue tonight / I'll be with you." In stark contrast to the crudity of the other men we hear shouting, the Orbison persona sensitively identifies with the woman whom he wants to save. He desires her just as strongly as the other men do, but unlike them, he identifies with her loneliness. On March 25, 1969, Orbison married one of his German fans, Barbara Jakobs, whom he had met several days before his sons' deaths. Wesley (born 1965), his youngest son with Claudette, was raised by Orbison's parents. Orbison and Barbara had a son (Roy Kelton) in 1970 and another (Alexander) in 1975.

Buddy Holly's Ting-A-Ling is one of his wildest sounding rock numbers. But the lyrics, although devoid of Orbison's sad melancholy, also help establish a powerful bond with the girl(s) featured in the song. "Well now I'm just a poor young boy/And these girls 'bout to drive me wild/The way they rock and roll and hold me, angel child/The way they laugh, the way they sing/Makes my heart go ting-a-ling/Well, I'm young and I'm free/I want a fine young gal that is so nice and free." Unlike the heroines of traditional country ballads, Peggy Sue is not described in detail in Holly's famous song. As Dave Laing explains, "Peggy Sue is sung in different ways, so as to suggest the infinite variety of his affection for her. If the words suggest the ingenuity of his approach to the girl, the rhythm denotes the determined character of his pursuit for her. For this song, like so many others of Buddy Holly's, he's uncertain that his love will reciprocated." Another beautiful song written by Holly in 1958, “Because I Love You,” suggests the emotional turmoil he went through a painful break-up. In the lyric, Holly 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.

"Blue Angel" is another important song that showcases Roy Orbison's romantic pulse. It departs from the usual first-person narratives in which he suffers the pain; in this variation, he comforts the woman who has suffered at the hands of another man. At the beginning of the song, he disapprovingly describes the other man as someone who "thought love was a game," assuring the woman that he, by contrast, will "never say goodbye." Yet as the song progresses we discover that the love he sings about is displaced into the future, and there is no indication that the woman has any interest in him, though he offers himself up to her unconditionally, describing the wonderful love they will have: "If you'll just say you're mine / I'll love you 'til the end of time." Again, "She's a Mystery to Me" offers a symbolic physical referent to the masochistic pain that is frequently more psychological in Orbison's music. The song concludes with an intense image of both physical pain and frozen time: "Am I left to burn / And burn eternally." These images of Hell invoke the most extreme an eternal form of that masochistic time that seeks to stop at the moment of greatest suffering. The image of the paralyzed man who wants to run but cannot and instead "melts away" points to the total dissolution of the self that lies at the heart of the masochist aesthetic. If melting away poetically but indirectly means the dissolution of the self, "Windsurfer" expresses clearly the masochist's desire for death. Executives at Virgin Records did not like the song and urged him to use another. "Windsurfer" was included on the Mystery Girl album only at Orbison's insistence.

"Oh, Pretty Woman" is much less about a rose-tinted view of female beauty and the street life than it is about a male form of masochistic desire. At the climax of "Oh, Pretty Woman," the masochistic sense of timing finds formal expression when the Orbison persona cries out, "But wait, what do I see?" The opening guitar riff, itself structured around a disruption of time, is repeated, freezing time as the Orbison persona passively waits to see what action the desired woman will take. Bob Dylan had long admired Orbison and had written "Don't Think Twice" for him, recording the song himself in 1963 only after Orbison decided not to record it. Most people think of Roy Orbison as just the smooth crooner who sang ballads like “Only the Lonely” and “Crying.” But Orbison was also a wicked guitar player, who ripped out several impressive solos with his iconic Gibson ES-335 guitar on early Sun Records singles like “Ooby Dooby.” By 1964, most of Orbison’s early rock and roll contemporaries were either dead, strung-out on drugs, or in jail, but Orbison’s musical career still hadn’t reached its peak. In between the ballads, he recorded singles like “Mean Woman Blues” (check his wild guitar solo) and “Oh, Pretty Woman” that showed upstarts like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Animals that Americans still could rock harder than any British band.

Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly opened rock 'n' roll to a wide range of emotions and intensity for other artists, far removed from the dominant macho posturing of the time. There were, to be sure, some elements of vulnerability in Elvis and others, but nothing comparable to Holly or Orbison. Buddy Holly had helped Roy Orbison with lead guitar structures on some of the songs Orbison was trying to write in the late 50s. When Orbison, from Wink, Texas, 125 miles south of Lubbock, heard Holly on KDAV, it certainly altered his life. It was Buddy Holly who showed Roy Orbison the guitar lick that would become so popular when Orbison recorded “Pretty Woman” in 1964. Buddy Holly’s detractors had been mostly mediocre C&W pickers who envied his talent, but they had a shattering effect on his self-esteem. And Holly began to withdraw from the crowd, turning inward. Despite his standoffishness, Buddy’s smart-aleck persona reasserted itself anytime he felt secure, especially when he was with other musicians, or a girl he liked. As a songwriter, Buddy Holly favored Major chords, as well as Brian Wilson (the favorite keys of Holly were A, E and D, whereas Wilson preferred to write in key B). Brian Wilson was another creative and sensitive pop genius who had no time for macho posturing ("I think cursing is a bunch of malarkey", Wilson once said). When he released his album No Pier Pressure in 2015, Brian Wilson explained: "The songs come to me sitting at a piano and out of the sudden, they come down from my brain and onto the keyboard."  

“I don’t want to be rich,” Buddy Holly had said to Sonny Curtis: “I don’t even want to be in the limelight. But I want people to remember the name Buddy Holley.” Buddy 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 quite handsome, with a big, heroic forehead, gull-wing eyebrows, a squared-off chin, and a strong jaw-line. The rock ballad “I Guess I Was Just a Fool” was the first sign of Buddy Holly exploring deeper emotional states with insight and depth. It tells the story of a man who has lost a relationship but he's glad to know he’s at least capable of experiencing love. Buddy seems to be drawing on his ill-starred love for the wild girl of Lubbock. In the plaintive Mystery Girl Orbison admits freely "There are stronger men than me." Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly had the courage to be different as singers, songwriters and performers at a crucial moment in the evolution of rock 'n' roll. There are no stronger or more inspiring men than that. —Sources: "Roy Orbison: Invention Of An Alternative Rock Masculinity" (2003) by Peter Lehman and "This'll Be the Day: The Life and Legacy of Buddy Holly" (2009) by Maury Dean

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Buddy Holly: three chords and the truth

Music writer Dominic Pedler, author of The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles (2010): Amongst Buddy Holly’s finest musical moments is the bridge to ‘Everyday’ which showcases his understanding of a classically derived, five-chord cycle which unfolds so irresistibly towards the song’s musical and lyrical climax; ‘Do you ever long for true love from me?’ It's a brilliant take on that bridge, descending in inevitable fifths that end on that hanging imperfect cadence rather than a settled resolution. Buddy Holly didn’t follow the standard three-chord pattern that most rock’n’roll players were doing. Buddy had moved into country-rock, or moreso invented country-rock. Country music was ‘Three chords and the truth,’ to quote the songwriter Harlan Howard. Kent Westbury, who wrote Ann-Margret’s 1961 hit ‘I Just Don’t Understand’, loved Buddy playing ‘Modern Don Juan’. Kent said, ‘I liked Buddy Holly because he could change chords faster than anybody I’ve ever seen.’  Paul McCartney: ‘The white rock’n’roll singers like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis were rooted in country. They got country and western, the Grand Ole Opry, from their own families and they merged it with black music, which was more naughty. Even Chuck Berry liked country music.’

The way Holly used bar chords was innovative. He wrote around three major chords, and he would go to a minor occasionally when he wanted to change the mood. If you are a guitarist, you generally put down a major chord as a happy chord: if it was a D chord, you would play D major and it would sound happy, but a minor chord would make the music sound sad. Buddy Holly would change the mood of the song with the minor chords to fulminant effect. When he was playing the lead solo in ‘Peggy Sue’, he was playing an A major to D, and it was structured with his rhythm guitar playing. Buddy was well versed in Ray Charles (‘Let the Good Times Roll’), liked Fats Domino’s ‘Goin’ Home’, LaVern Baker’s ‘Jim Dandy’, Sonny James’ ‘Young Love’ and its B-side ‘You’re the Reason I’m In Love’, Marvin and Johnny’s ‘Tick Tock’, Edna McGriff’s ‘Why oh Why’ and Charlie Gracie’s ‘Butterfly’. 

Carolyn Hester: ‘Buddy Holly was one of the few geniuses I actually knew. His love for music was overwhelming and we used to wonder, ‘Is this guy ever going to relax?’ Rock biographer Dominic Pedler: ‘Quite apart from his use of full scale key changes, Holly always had an ear for the unexpected, often ambitiously hijacking chords from beyond the prevailing scale to create the subtle departure from cliché, which typically defines songwriting brilliance.’ British music journalist Jon Savage (author of The Kinks: The Official Biography): ‘As a Beatles child, I’ve always found classic rock’n’roll a bit hard to take. The only exceptions are the early Elvis and almost all of Buddy Holly’s catalogue. There’s something about Buddy Holly that makes him still sound contemporary. Maybe it’s his ability to get to the heart of the matter with subtlety rather than bombast. All his songs are in major keys so it’s all very joyful sounding stuff. There’s a lot of joie de vivre in his music. The mood is not one of anger and defiance but of maturity before its time: calm, stoical, affirming his ‘dreams and wishes.’’

On 6 November 1957, The Crickets performed at the Kiel Opera House in St Louis, Missouri. While scuffling backstage, Paul Anka knocked out one of the plugs, thus turning off the stage microphones. Buddy Holly was on stage and came off furious. Johnny Moore of the Drifters recalled a similar incident: ‘Paul Anka, being the practical joker he is, hid Buddy Holly’s guitar just before they called out ‘Buddy Holly’ from the stage. Someone gave him a guitar to do his act and when he came off, he was in a rage. Otherwise, Buddy was a real nice guy–quiet, introverted, never spoke too much.’ On the road, Buddy’s humour and good nature did much to defuse the explosive incompatibility of his fellow headliners. Buddy admired the precocious songwriting talent of Paul Anka, and with his usual open-heartedness he suggested they might write songs together. Mark Lewisohn: "The various members of the Beatles didn’t see Buddy Holly when he came to Liverpool as it was also the opening night of the Morgue Skiffle Cellar in Oakhill Park. Considering what Holly fans they were, it’s a bit of surprise that they did not go see Holly. It is also surprising because the Philharmonic Hall is on Hope Street and only 100 yards away from both the art college (where John Lennon was) and Liverpool Institute (where Paul and George were). Lennon was rarely interested in seeing other performers and maybe he had talked Paul and George out of it. The Philharmonic Hall staged classical concerts and on this occasion, the venue had also booked the Paul Anka tour for the previous night. Like Holly, Anka was committed to performing on a variety showcase."

In Waterloo, Iowa, on 8 July 1958, The Crickets were supported by Eddie Randall and the Downbeats at the Electric Park. Besides lending Eddie his guitar, a photo shows Buddy handing him a pick, proof that you can be a rock star and still be a nice, helpful guy. Buddy had broken his standard glasses and was wearing dark ones, which he normally wore for driving. A photographer, Dick Cole, asked Buddy to take off his glasses, but he said, ‘I’m not trying to be a glamour boy. I’m trying to be a musician.’ Maybe the darkened glasses were another inventive trademark which would be so copied in the next decades (Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, etc). At one gig, a man complained about ‘that bastard making eyes at my girl’. The fan even challenged Buddy to a fight but he was calmed by Buddy's assurance he was only looking at the audience. In May 1959, Norman Petty had recorded Buddy Knox in Clovis covering a Bobby Darin song, ‘I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon.’ This recording of Knox was disappointing and indicates that Buddy Holly knew more about recording with saxophones than Norman Petty. Buddy had invited King Curtis, who played with the Coasters, to Clovis, primarily to accompany him on a new song, ‘Reminiscing’. That's a brilliant rock and roll recording with accompanying saxophone. 

Buddy Holly had published a couple of singles which hadn’t made the charts, and some Decca executives were nursing doubts about him. Fortunately, both Bob Thiele and Dick Jacobs backed up his potential and agreed to finance an orchestral session at the Pythian Temple in New York. This session took place on 21 October 1958 with Dick Jacobs writing arrangements, and Jack Hansen securing the right orchestra musicians. There were eight violins, two violas, a cello and a harp. The Crickets, estranged from Buddy by then, were not invited. Jacobs could see the potential of It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and wrote an arrangement using pizzicato strings in unison, a sound pioneered by Tchaikovsky. Buddy once drove with George Atwood to Clovis and they wrote a song about the sun being like a big orange ball. It was never completed, though. Sonny Curtis: ‘The acoustic guitar at the beginning of ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ is Eddie Cochran and I’m playing electric guitar. He was a tremendous musician, innovative and full of ideas, and I loved his style. Cochran had a lot of drive, but you can’t compare him to Buddy Holly because Buddy was the only guitarist on most of his hit records. He had all the responsibility and he had to make every stroke count. Eddie had other guitarists, so he had more help in the studio.’ 

About 2 weeks before he died, Eddie Cochran was interviewed by a local magazine in the UK. When he was asked about his best friends, he said, ‘Buddy Holly and Vince Eager.’ Buddy Holly was the first rock’n’roll victim, a death that echoed that of 24-year-old James Dean in 1955, the rebel without a cause. Buddy Holly, in contrast, was a rebel with a cause. He was committed to his music and determined not to rest on his laurels and be as innovative as possible in conjunction with a punishing work schedule. Allegedly, The Crickets had phoned the Surf Ballroom but Buddy Holly could not be located. Instead, they called the next venue and left a message for Holly to call them. This seems astonishingly late to be making calls, but these are musicians, after all. Waylon Jennings, of all people, had fuelled controversy around the iffy details of the plane crash, by saying, ‘There’s a good chance that Buddy was flying that plane.’ A good chance? I think it was Waylon who was flying that night! When Buddy Holly died, he didn’t have an enemy in the world–if you don’t count Norman Petty, and who would want to count him? As Sonny Curtis wrote in his song ‘The Real Buddy Holly Story’: "He never knocked nobody down in his life." And that, when you come down to it, matters even more than the music.

With our modern hindsight, some disinformed critics could make the mistake of thinking of Buddy Holly's approach as shy or opaque. But look at Brian Wilson. His abstract songs about girls are the happiest–‘California Girls’ is him just saying what could be better than admiring a chick in a bathing suit? When he got to know girls better, this vision fell to pieces. ‘Caroline No’ and ‘Wendy’ are tragic and tormented. In addition to his astonishing ouvre, Buddy was reportedly working on new compositions with provisional titles as ‘I Feel Good’, ‘Lost Dreams’ and ‘Used-to-be’, chillingly similar to some hits from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Philip Norman, biographer of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, describes Buddy Holly’s death as ‘the most famous tragedy in rock history’ which presumably leaves John Lennon's death as the second most famous tragedy. 

Buddy Holly (2010) by Dave Laing: Most biographies start with a defining moment, a key happening in the subject’s life which should intrigue the reader. Unfortunately, Laing discusses the actor-network theory and how it applies to Buddy Holly work. This is because there is so little direct testimony of Buddy Holly's life and so Laing's essay works out as a sort of ventriloquism act. Still, Laing's essay is very good when it comes to analysing the technique of Holly’s compositions, although his form of analysis isn’t for everyone. Laing discusses the religious imagery in Holly’s music (‘You never listen to my prayer’ in ‘Maybe Baby’). He says that ‘Raining In My Heart’ is powered by an extended conceit, making a homology between rain and tears. Laing overreaches at times, when identifying Malinowski's meta messages within Holly's verses, but overall it's an interesting analysis.

In the essay Pity Peggy Sue, by sociologists Barbara Bradby and Brian Torode (Cambridge University Press, 1984), the authors point out "Peggy" as denoting the male confidence and "Sue" as the feminine attributes. Holly’s vocals have three performance modes in this mythical song: normal, falsetto and deep. Jerry Allison: "After I got married, someone told me that I was never in love with Peggy Sue. I was just infatuated, which was a little late for me to discover." Probably, Peggy Sue was more in love with Buddy Holly than Jerry Allison, whom she divorced in 1964. Jerry Allison and his second wife Joanie bought a 50 acre farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. According to Jerry Coleman, a former KDAV radio disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas, whose career extended back to 1956, Buddy was 'a good American boy, he could be the nicest but stubborn as hell too'. Coleman thought Buddy seemed infatuated with a girl who had a bad reputation in the Lubbock area. Buddy confessed he was in love with this girl (unhappily married) and met her at the Bamboo Club at night, although it's uncertain on what terms this relationship developed. Jerry Allison didn't give much credit to this story, although Niki Sullivan seemed convinced of the veracity of their clandestine romance. Although Allison seemed to regret his decision of not having backed up Holly against Norman Petty, he has not been too fond of looking back at the past. Possibly, too painful to reckon on having said no to a legend.

The official version of the romance with Maria Elena says that on some unspecified date in June 1958, Buddy paid a visit to Murray Deutch at Peer–Southern in New York. Maria Elena, who was then 25 years old, was a Puerto Rican recepcionist. While waiting, there was an instant spark between Buddy and her. Buddy asked her to go on a date that night. Over dinner, Buddy proposed marriage. Maria Elena thought he was kidding and said he would need her aunt Provi’s permission. At nine o’clock the next morning, Buddy turned up at the apartment of Provi Garcia to confirm his intention of marrying Maria Elena. Over the years, I realized Buddy must have known Maria Elena from his previous visits to Peer–Southern. He could hardly have failed to notice a pretty Latina girl sitting outside Murray Deutch’s door! So I learned about an interview Maria Elena gave to 16 magazine in March 1959 (A Farewell to Buddy Holly), which gives a more plausible account of her whirlwind romance with Buddy. In that interview, Maria Elena says that the pair first met in January 1958, which coincides with the Recording Stars tour (from 8-24 January). She began to think Buddy “was so shy we'd never get beyond the point of greeting each other.”

The spark between them occurred when she was lunching with Jo Harper at Howard Johnson’s and the Crickets, accompanied by Norman Petty, turned up and joined the girls. This would probably have been in late January 1958, around the time of the ‘Rave On’ session. It was after this meeting that Buddy turned to Petty and said: ‘You see that girl? I’m going to marry her.’ It was months later, probably around the time of the Big Beat tour, that Buddy and Maria Elena got closer together and shared a kiss in the back of a taxi. Maria Elena certainly attended one of the early performances of Alan Freed’s Big Beat Show in New York in March 1958, accompanied by Sonny Curtis. While Buddy was touring, they kept in touch by phone three or four times a day, and it was in June, around the ‘Early In The Morning’ session, that they got Aunt Provi’s approval of the marriage. The official version seems to have combined the events of January, March and June 1958 into one hectic couple of days. But whatever the details, Buddy and Maria Elena fell in love, very hard. Music producer Will Bratton (and Doc Pomus' son-in-law) recalls: "Buddy Holly wasn’t dangerous. He was quirky and dressed like a nerd, like the boy that dads want their daughters to marry. He would use folksy, self-deprecating humor on stage. Buddy Holly was in no way a threatening male type at all, but I think his music is very sexy." —"Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly" (2009) by John Gribbin