Sixty years ago, on October 15, 1955, two historical figures converged in Lubbock, Texas, when Buddy Holly opened for Elvis Presley’s show at the Fair Park Coliseum. During his decline phase in the ’70s Elvis Presley singled out Buddy Holly admiringly: “Looking back over the last 20 years, I guess the guy I’ve admired most in rock ‘n’ roll is Buddy Holly.” In January 1986—over 30 years later since their first professional encounter—both Elvis and Buddy Holly were among the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Like Christmas season, Holly’s music conjures an unadulterated spirit that we can celebrate immediately by listening to his recent compilation Collected 3-CD set (57 tracks) which includes alternate versions—”Crying, Waiting, Hoping” or “Wishing” giving off Christmas carol vibes—and rare tracks like “Baby Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” “Love’s Made A Fool of You” or “That Makes It Tough.”
Holly was one of the most inventive pioneers of rock and roll, and this newly released retrospective confirms his fabulous legacy. Holly—ranked #13 among “The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time” by Rolling Stone—was once described by All Music Guide critic Bruce Eder as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll,” whereas Philip Norman called him in his biography Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly (2014) “the 20th century’s most influential musician.”
All these deserved accolades are all the more true when one submerges into that idyllic fusion of powerful rhythm and vivid melody that defines Holly’s timeless ouvre. Christopher J. Oglesby (author of Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air, 2006) asserts: “Buddy Holly gave voice to all the outcasts, misfits, artists, dreamers, shakers, wailers and moaners of the world. Elvis will always be the King of rock and roll. Buddy Holly is most certainly its George Washington. He’s a true American hero.” Lifelong fan Paul McCartney—who acquired the rights of Holly’s catalog—said: “Buddy Holly gave you confidence. He was the boy next door.”
Holly’s whirlwind career only lasted from 1956 until his sudden death on February 3, 1959, caused by a fatidic airplane crash. “Well, All Right”—one of the many examples that prove his permanent influence on The Beatles—is eloquently lauded by critic Jonathan Cott: “The irrepressible optimism of this song, like the incantatory trance of “Listen to Me” and “Words of Love” conveys Holly’s magical notion that the insistent repetition of one’s wishes is in fact the fulfillment of the wish itself; as in ritual, the rapture of song becomes the proof of this magic and, in the end, the magic itself.”
NPR critic Tim Riley—author of Tell Me Why: The Beatles—examined Holly’s outwardly “naïve” yet intriguing image in his article Learning the Game, or How John Lennon Learned to Stop Worrying and Love His Inner Geek (2006): “Long before ‘Post-Modern’ became pure jargon, Buddy Holly put quotes around his ‘normalcy’ to disarm rock machismo. Holly hiccuped his hormones out loud, flipping everybody’s high school jitters into metaphor. Everything ‘straight’ and ‘innocent’ in his sound became ironic. Holly pushed ‘normal’ to extremes. On his records, everyday stuff turned radical.”
In the chronicle Hey, Buddy (2010), Gary W. Moore transcribes an interview to Don McLean—who wrote the hit “American Pie” in 1971 as an elegy dedicated to Buddy Holly’s memory—in which he laments the numbness bordering on indifference shown by the American society in the face of such an irreparable loss.
McLean complains about the British Invasion that, shortly after Holly’s death, took over the musical scene in the U.S.: “In my opinion, no rock act, not the Beatles, not the Stones, nor anyone else, can top records like ‘Peggy Sue’ or ‘Rave On.’ They are rock mountains that nobody has climbed. The diversity of Buddy’s music is also profound. ‘Moondreams’ and ‘True Love Ways’ are musically as advanced as anything by the great popular composers. Gershwin or Berlin would have marveled at these compositions.”
The last track of Collected (Disc 3) is “That Makes It Tough” (recorded on December 8, 1958), whose lyrics are tinged with sadness and regret: “Memories will follow me forever/Tho’ I know our dreams cannot come true/All those precious things we shared together/Time goes by/I’ll still remember you/And that makes it tough.”
In September 2015, Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?: A Rock ‘n Roll Riff Memoir by Peggy Sue Gerron—written by the eponymous muse that inspired Holly’s “Peggy Sue” and “Peggy Sue Got Married”—was released in paperback format. Peggy Sue’s story mirrors an alternative version of her relationship with Buddy Holly. At one moment during their double honeymoon shared in Acapulco—Sue had married Holly’s drummer Jerry Allison—when Maria Elena (Holly’s widow) wasn’t present, Buddy Holly allegedly said to Peggy Sue Gerron: “If you belonged to me, I’d give you anything in the entire world, including the world if you wanted it.”
Another “what if” tale, also published this year, is The Winter Dance Party Murders, where Greg Herriges gives voice to a new character who enters into the ominous events that led to the plane crash where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died: “The plane engines whistled as we sailed out over the Atlantic. On the front page of The London Times folded on my lap was a photo of John Lennon planting an acorn for peace, but behind the metal-rimmed glasses the eyes of Buddy Holly looked up at me. I learned that most of life is like a cheap trick and the rest what they call the truth.”
Charles Hardin Holley’s “hold on his fans is to be explained by his very humanity,” as John Goldrosen—author of Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly—claims. Buddy Holly, the hillbilly who turned into the first stuttering geek of rock, was doubly subversive: first becoming a rocker against the mores of a provincial community, and second being an anomalous kind of rocker. His music is one of the great triumphs of the rock and roll revolution, making us laugh at the cheap tricks along the way and cry after finding out the truth.
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