Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Buddy Holly's Life & Legacy by Maury Dean

Buddy Holly’s picture we all love is the black and white cover of his #11 album The Buddy Holly Story that arose in early 1959, as the world mourned his untimely passing. It’s the picture where he resembles Clark Kent, with Superman’s music surging in his glowing guitar, whose everlasting trademark songs shatter time and space in innocence, purity, and rhythmic thunder. Any similarity between that B&W picture of bespectacled Buddy and Superman’s alter-ego Clark Kent is NOT coincidental. Outshining Elvis in musical versatility and songwriting savvy, Buddy dialed his Fender Stratocaster guitar up to FULL SPEED AHEAD. Elvis is arguably the most important entertainer of all time. Buddy’s key role? The guy who designed the audial blueprint for all rock music to follow. 

As much as Mr. Beaubien invented the electric guitar in 1926, Buddy Holly was the instigator, the innovator, the one who mattered most, while rock rolls along, hurdling millenniums like speedbumps. You’ll see. Though not armed with the drop-dead telegenic looks of an Elvis, Holly was nevertheless a genius singer-songwriter who zoned in on his own unique sound, nurtured it into reality, and pulled the rug out from under pastel pop ditties that masqueraded for Teen Idol turf. I believe Buddy Holly was a nice guy who finished first. He was half-angel and half-imp. Through friendly goof-around persuasion, Buddy convincingly coached his Cricket bandmates to play certain riffs, cadenzas, and complex drum beats. Hokey as it may sound, Dion’s words cascade down to the present day—“Buddy was like the big brother I never had. He was the nicest guy I ever met.”

Buddy Holly never wanted to be Elvis. He was very modest, and happy enough being Buddy Holly. “Buddy Holly,” said Elvis Presley as soon as 1957, “is my  favorite singer.” Buddy gave all of us the notion, the will, and the gutsy optimism to rock. You couldn’t find a better rockin’ role model if you tried. Most of all, This’ll Be the Day  is a love story about Buddy Holly and his beautiful bride Maria Elena Santiago. According to Peter Asher (chief of the A&R department at the Beatles' Apple Records label), one of the greatest love stories of all time. Like Romeo and Juliet, Buddy and Maria Elena’s is truly the one story that rock and roll could never forget.

Perforating Amarillo, Texas, interstate Highway I-40 traded restaurants like Buddy’s local favorite drive-in the Hi-D-Ho, with the big sign CATFISH—FRIED OKRA—MALTEDS, out beyond where lost Norman Rockwell towns were fading away. Mystery surrounds the legend of Buddy Holly. One great book (John Goldrosen's Remembering Buddy) and a good one (Philip Norman’s Rave On) paint Holly’s All-American Lubbock childhood, both tremendous in scope. Buddy was elected the King of the Sixth Grade. It’s because he was the coolest kid. Buddy’s early life is spattered with adventures you’d expect from a kid at the top of Texas back in James Dean’s frenzied 50s.

Buddy majored in baseball all the way up in grammar school at Roscoe Wilson Elementary School in Lubbock. By five, his pix showed him as an apprentice buckaroo, replete with cowboy hat, boots, and a pony older than the 200-year-old Galapagos tortoise where explorer Capt. James Cook carved his initials on the shell. At age five, Buddy won a five-dollar prize at a nearby County Line talent show with his brothers by playing “Down the River of Memories,” according to brother Larry. The Holleys moved five times in 12 years. The Holleys might have been 'pretty much behind the eight-ball financially' as Larry put it, but thanks to the blessed egalitarianism of the educational system, Buddy lacked few things of the classic American boyhood than his better-off schoolfriends enjoyed.

Buddy Holly was the best musician of the whole batch of the 1950s. Buddy took piano lessons from a local teacher for nine months at some vague age close to ten or twelve, about the time he became King of the 6th Grade. Buddy got so he could dump the written musical notes, and play pieces by ear, but then he quit abruptly, says Goldrosen, even as he was getting proficient. Larry Holley: "I saw Buddy in the Battle of the Bands at the Tower Theater. There was a bunch of crazy kids, shouting and yelling. There'd been a lot of real good-looking singers up on that stage and when it was Buddy's turn to come on, all these kids started laughing at him and yellin' out things at him, like 'Old Turkey-neck!' But Buddy came from the side of the stage to the middle in one movement without seeming to move his feet at all, hit his guitar, and right away that whole crowd went wild."

Buddy Holly just never did a major scandal, no matter how tabloid titillators crank out frenzied fiction hustled as torrid half-truth. Buddy was actually just a guy who went to church, had a couple of romances, and then met the girl of his dreams. Buddy didn’t believe in stalling, while falling in love. Holly seemed to admire sprightly cheerleaders like Peggy Sue Gerron. Maria Elena reportedly said his husband detested Peggy Sue, though. Holly hid nothing in his love life, regardless of ridiculous falsehoods. Holly's anthem Peggy Sue redefined the male role that James Dean had started in Rebel without a Cause in 1955. Holly joined Dean and revolutionized the male mass media persona: tough was ok but tender was better. Holly admits vulnerability and captures the sweet quintaessence of affection, the antithesis to icy, estranged, modern urban despair.

That's What They Say is Buddy Holly's great unheralded song, stunningly melodic, a brocade of far-flung polychord fantasies and celestial harmonies - it bears a Generation X message of cosmic doom. —"This'll Be the Day: The Life and Legacy of Buddy Holly" (2009) by Maury Dean

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Bobby Vee (RIP) and Buddy Holly: Gentle Idols

Letter: I’ll always be grateful to Bobby Vee It has long been the norm to dismiss the “teen music” of the early 1960s with a sneer of condescension but having lived through that period, I’ll always be grateful to Bobby Vee. He brought kindness to his songs of love and loss, and endorsed gentleness in relationships, not just in the words of songs such as Take Good Care of My Baby but in his tone of voice. It was a huge treat to see Bobby in person in the All American Solid Gold Rock’n’Roll Show in Woking, Surrey, in 2000, when he commanded the stage with warmth and human generosity.

Bobby Vee, best known for hits including Rubber Ball, Take Good Care of My Baby and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, died at the age of 73. Vee released more than 25 albums during his career, retiring in 2011 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Vee's big break came about in 1959 at the age of 15 when he filled in for Buddy Holly after the singer's death in a plane crash. A call went out for local acts to replace Holly at his scheduled show at the Moorhead National Guard Armory. Vee and his band, which had only formed two weeks previously, volunteered.

Bobby Vee, born Robert Velline, also gave a young Bob Dylan his start. Dylan played briefly with Vee's band and he was the one who suggested Velline change his last name to Vee. Bobby Vee and the Shadows were signed in autumn 1959 and Vee had his first hit in the Billboard charts in 1960 with Devil or Angel. Source:

Vee had many hits, and a lot of high quality ones at that. That includes one I learned just a couple weeks ago, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.” It’s both cranked-out hack work and kind of brilliant. There’s no doubting either its corniness or its supreme craftsmanship. Part of that polish is the ease with which the young singer glides through its three contrasting sections. I happen to know that Vee liked to cut live in the studio with all the musicians there. Here it would mean a large string section. He never cared for the modern piecemeal approach to recording. I was given this tidbit by his nephew, who lives in the Twin Cities. Nothing is made that way now except movie soundtracks and classical music. “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” lyrics are kind of creepy in a David Lynch way. I’m sure he would have considered this song for one of his movies, if only because a cheerful, upbeat stalker would probably fascinate him. Bob Dylan, his polar opposite, remained a fan and a friend. Bobby Vee carried the torch from Buddy Holly and passed it on to the Beatles. He was a place holder, and he made that dry stretch a little better. He’ll be missed. Source:

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (2011)  Chapter 6: The Day the Music Was Born: On those tours in 1958, we went from glory to glory, headlining with the likes of Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues”), Gene Vincent (“Be-Bop-ALula”), and Bobby Darin (“Splish Splash”). In the fall we got invited to join another superstar, Buddy Holly, on what was billed as “The Biggest Show of Stars.” Buddy had a streak of hits that could make Joe DiMaggio jealous: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “Oh, Boy,” “Maybe, Baby,” and “It’s So Easy (to Fall in Love).” He’d only been recording for a year, but he had already established a rock and roll sound that everyone was mimicking. 

We spent three weeks together on “The Biggest Show of Stars,” and we established a strong relationship–friendship and mutual musical admiration. When Buddy invited me to join him on his upcoming all-star “Winter Dance Party” tour, I was honored. You may already know how this story ends; it’s part of rock-and-roll mythology. People call February 3, 1959, “the day the music died.” I was one of the headliners. I’ve read all the interviews, their stories, and I can authoritatively say to you that most of it is bunk. The events, as they happened, have been completely eclipsed by urban legends, cinematic retellings, gossip, and outright grandstanding. If all the people who said they’d flipped a coin with Buddy Holly were telling the truth, we would’ve needed a military personnel carrier to fit them all. But I guess a story like that makes for good TV, and it makes the guys respect you at the bar. I found the whole business distasteful.

Although Buddy Holly’s rise to fame may have seemed meteoric, it actually required not only tremendous musical talent but also a commitment to an often-grueling tour schedule, which contributed to his premature death. After agreeing to perform for another round of Alan Freed shows in December 1957, Holly and the Crickets once again hit the road, playing several venues east of the Mississippi River. Around this time, there was a growing public backlash against rock and roll, especially among parents, civic leaders, segregationists, and others who feared that this new music would undermine traditional social mores and encourage interracial mingling. 

Buddy Holly was never comfortable with the more rebellious “bad boy” image often associated with rock and roll. Holly traded his old-fashioned, clear plastic and silver-framed eyeglasses for a pair of black, horn-rimmed frames popularized by television celebrity Steve Allen. In Australia, January 1958, the tour performed before arena-sized crowds that were especially impressed by the Crickets. 

In fact, Jerry Lee Lewis later admitted that Buddy Holly was the true star of the show. The Crickets’ stage persona was somewhat different from that of other rock and roll bands at the time: Buddy Holly would often use folksy and self-deprecating humor on stage. The Crickets headed out on another grueling 44-day North American tour, known as the “Big Beat Tour,” which had been arranged by Alan Freed. Also on the tour were Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lymon, and Danny and the Juniors. Although Alan Freed’s “Big Beat Tour” was loaded with talent, attendance for most shows was lackluster. The public animosity toward the music was growing. Soon afterward, Massachusetts Governor William Fleming introduced a bill to ban rock and roll music from all government buildings. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover used this incident to argue that rock and roll was part of a Communist conspiracy to undermine Western freedom and democracy. “Not Fade Away”: The Geographic Dimensions of Buddy Holly’s Meteoric Career (2011) by Kevin Romig

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chilly Reveries: Strawberry Fields Forever, The Winter Dance Party (told by Dion)

Through the lens of LSD, Strawberry Fields Forever turned from simple nostalgia into inward reflection. John Lennon's self doubt came to the fore, at times clouded by inarticulacy and hallucinogenic sensations. Although it was to end up as a psychedelic masterpiece, Strawberry Fields Forever began relatively simply. John Lennon recorded a series of solo demos in mid-November 1966 at his home in Weybridge, Surrey. Instead of opening with the chorus, the early versions of the song began with the first two verses back-to-back. This initial arrangement was also used on take one in the studio, also available on Anthology 2. This first take also has a rounded ending; a Mellotron and guitar instrumental passage, in stark contrast to the psychedelic spectacle of the final version.

Imagine if a dose of LSD or magic mushrooms could help a person get over their alcoholism or even stop smoking. Despite the fact that most psychedelic drugs are illegal, many scientists have been claiming for decades that they are in fact highly therapeutic, especially when it comes to treating addiction. A new study in the journal Current Opinion in Behavioural Sciences has pulled together all the available evidence going back to the 1950s in order to make a pretty compelling case for the power of hallucinogens to combat substance abuse disorders.

Before LSD became the driving force of the counterculture revolution of the 1960s, scientists were busy exploring the drug’s effects on the brain. They discovered that it binds to serotonin receptors, generating feelings of positivity and helping to regulate people’s moods. In light of this, they decided to examine whether or not it could help alcoholics stay off the bottle.

Like LSD, psilocybin – the active hallucinogen in magic mushrooms – activates the brain’s serotonin receptors. The authors also point to a small number of studies involving an Amazonian brew called ayahuasca, which contains the psychedelic molecule DMT. While much more research is needed in order to bulk up the existing evidence, the early signs suggest that ayahuasca may be an effective treatment for alcohol, cocaine and tobacco addiction.

Delving deeper into the neural mechanisms behind the effects of these hallucinogenic substances, the researchers reveal that many appear to increase synaptic plasticity in the brain, meaning they allow brain connections to become reshaped, enabling users to break free from certain rigid modes of thought and behavior. Source:

The recording of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, along with it’s double A-side partner ‘Penny Lane’, represented a high-water mark in the Beatles’ career. November 24, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the recording of the song at Abbey Road studios. Interviewed throughout the years, the one song Lennon was persistently pressed about was ‘Strawberry Fields’. Was it a place? Did it really exist? What did it mean? What was really real? The exercise in introspective lyrical stream of consciousness was oddly arresting to millions of listeners. Equally as arresting as the lyrical theme, however, was the sonic instrumentation which accompanied it, especially its dreamy melodic intro invoking a childlike lullaby. 

When this glorious phase of recording ended late in 1967, it was really the beginning of the end for the band. The actual origin of the song can be traced to Lennon’s journey to Almería, Spain, in September 1966 where he travelled to film Dick Lester’s How I Won the War. For John Lennon, Santa Isabel’s iron gate and overgrown gardens evoked a haunting of a different kind – nostalgic recollections of his childhood and a favourite hideout. The the gate and gardens struck Lennon with its similarity to Strawberry Field orphanage and Salvation Army home, where as a boy he had frolicked and hidden away in the gardens of Strawberry Field with various childhood friends. This nostalgia trip to brighter days gone by was in fact keeping instep with what was truly behind the British psychedelic scene: a deep yearning for the past.

In Lennon’s lyrical exploration, the place was both real and unreal, a physical place recalled from the past and existing now in its perfection only in a child’s memory. On returning to London on November 7, Lennon took his acoustic demos into his attic studio at Kenwood and set to work finishing the song, tweaking its structure and doodling with electric guitar and other instrument parts. During these extended home demos, Lennon can be heard adding layers of organ sounds in an attempt to experiment with the general ambience he had in his head. Most likely these sounds were provided by an instrument which he had acquired over the previous year (in August 1965), and although it was in his possession throughout the Rubber Soul and Revolver sessions, the mellotron was yet to feature on any Beatles recording. 

It was perhaps these experimentations which prompted Lennon to decide that the mellotron could provide the otherworldly sounds he had in his head to accompany his dreamy nostalgic lyric. IBC Studios in London is the location where a Beatle most likely first encountered a mellotron. On August 9, 1965, Lennon produced a recording of ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ for The Silkies at IBC Studios. All three Beatles likely encountered a mellotron at IBC during this session as Lennon ordered one (black with gold lettering) from the London Mellotronics office and this was delivered to his home in Weybridge precisely one week later on August 16.

What happened to the mellotron used in the recording and its location is a mystery that may never be solved. Contrary to another myth, McCartney does not own it.  ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was a total departure from anything the group had recorded before, in a sonic sense and in a sense of how they approached recording a song. The unique input each member provided (Lennon: vocals, guitar, mellotron, percussion; McCartney: mellotron, bass, piano, guitar, percussion; Harrison: mellotron, guitar, swarmandal, percussion; Starr: drums, percussion; Martin: mellotron, score for cello & trumpet) demonstrated how devastating the group could be when they worked together to pursue perfection. Hitting a peak in 1967, the Beatles became an almost organic and sentient unit who pulled so far ahead of their contemporaries as to seem completely untouchable. Happy 50th birthday, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Source:

Ed Ward: (author of The History of Rock and Roll, Volume 1, 1920-1963): After Buddy Holly's death, the so-called apartment tapes were overdubbed by Petty, using both The Crickets and a local band called The Fireballs as backing; these new singles came out through 1960. Now that the complete, undubbed tapes are available, a more complex Holly emerges. And he was thinking about rock 'n' roll, as if he were trying to figure something out, recording acoustic versions of current hits like The Coasters' “Smokey Joe's Cafe.” Most telling, though, there are three versions of “Slippin’ n’ Sliding” — fast, slow on electric and acoustic guitar — as if he were looking for something the tempo would reveal. We'll never know what he was looking for while his wife, Maria Elena, did the dishes, but I'm confident now that he'd have found it. 

"I've said all my life that I think the most psychedelic song in the world is Buddy Holly's 'Slippin' and Slidin', and it's not even trying," offers Jason Pierce from his home in London. "It's not trying to make itself that music, but I think psychedelic music is rooted in something deeper than just the kind of tricks people can do or studio effects. It would be nice if you could just throw some effects in there and that would work, but that invariably doesn't work."

Pilot of UK outfit Spiritualized, Pierce has crafted some of Britpop's most ambitious and grandiose songs, eloquent sonic waves that surge simultaneously with driving, hypnotic rhythms and lush, expansive orchestration. From 1997's seminal Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space to 2012's Velvet Underground-ripped Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Spiritualized's soundscapes both warmly envelop and aggressively pummel. Source:

Dion Dimucci: In the fall of 1958 my wife Susan (she was my girl at the time) was hanging out with Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley (Eddie Cochran's girlfriend). In the first three weeks of October 1958 I went on tour with Buddy Holly and we got very close. I'd met Buddy in New York because of the Alan Freed shows. Holly was a visionary, a very interesting guy; he wanted to start a label called Taupe. Maria Elena was pregnant with his child and Buddy wanted to get some money from Norman Petty. Petty told him all his money was tied up, and a rift started. Holly needed some cash so [promoter] Irvin Feld started putting this show together: The Winter Dance Party tour.

We were honing our skills, we'd be like we were in a contest: Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and myself, we had these new Fender Stratocasters and we were in a contest to see who would make it ring the longest. Buddy loved his father (a hard working guy), his family, and loved being a Texan. He'd talk about Samuel Houston and the Treaty of Texas. Buddy wasn't an angry guy nor a resentful guy, he was a very classy guy. Onstage, very clean, structured and formal, deliberate, very decisive. He was fearless. I remember Buddy telling me 'Dion, I don't know how to succeed but I know how to fail.' If it wasn't for him saying that I don't know if I would have done Runaround Sue, The Wanderer, Ruby Baby, Donna the Prima Donna, Sandy, etc.

Susan and me have been married for 53 years, it had a little to do with Buddy Holly and his modelling marriage. Every time Buddy was talking to Maria Elena he'd say: 'I adore you, I love you, I miss you.' He was a model for me. Buddy, Ritchie and I used to jam together. It was a little bit of heaven. When I'm inside a song, I know exactly who I am. And when we were playing in the back of the bus, I knew it. When we hit those chords and were stompin' on the floor of the bus and we were rockin' and taking solos and taking verses... that was home, that was family, that was the connection, salvation, touching the very center of my heart.

We were in the middle of a blizzard, trees were snapping in the wind, it was 30 below, and the snow was coming down so hard we couldn't see out the windows. Buddy and I huddled together under a blanket, and just to pass the time, I'd tell him stories of the Bronx and he'd tell me stories about Baptists in Lubbock. One of the Belmonts had a bottle of scotch, so we'd all take a shot. January 31st 1959, Saturday Night show: we had a huge crowd in Duluth. Sunday Morning, we get on the bus going to Appleton and Green Bay (Wisconsin). On the way down to Appleton, the bus breaks down. Early Sunday four o'clock in the morning; We were in the middle of who knows what. Just blinding snow, black and total darkness. Some guys are so cold they began to burn newspapers in the aisles of the bus. The trumpet player says 'you don't understand, we're going to be dead in two hours.'

Despite the increased tension among the weary performers, the bus pushed on to Duluth. Although the bus heating system was unable to provide enough warmth for the singers, temperatures were rising inside the bus. “Tempers got a little short at times,” Tommy Allsup recalls. “Mainly because guys were not getting any rest.” Carl Bunch: “It had gotten really tedious trying to live on that bus. It got to where we were joking with each other and we were calling Dion and the Belmonts Moron and the Bellhops, and they were calling us Bloody Holly and the Rickets.” The winds were howling off the frozen waters of Lake Superior, one block east of the armory, when the singers arrived for the 8 PM show. “The smell of that diesel [from the bus] coming off that ice would just literally stone you,” Bunch says. The weather was becoming a deadly serious matter. Temperatures approaching 35 below zero were predicted for Duluth that night, and the tour was booked for a 1:30 PM show Sunday in Appleton, Wisconsin, some three hundred and twenty miles away. With the Duluth show to run until midnight, tour manager Sam Geller had no choice but to have his entourage travel through the night while the singers tried to sleep. Headlights in the distance spurred Sam Geller into action. He jumped from the bus and waved down a car, which turned out to be driven by the county sheriff. The sheriff drove Geller to Hurley, where he found an old crankhandled telephone and woke the operator. After hearing of his group’s predicament, she said, “Oh my God, you’ll freeze to death.” —"The Day the Music Died" (2003) by Larry Lehmer

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Adam Curtis documentaries, Fifties Nostalgia

Hypernormalisation (2016) by Adam Curtis, is titled after a term coined by the Russian-born Berkeley professor Anton Yurchak to describe the dying years of the Soviet Union. The film’s core thesis is that, somewhere around the mid-1970s, politicians began to realize the “paralyzing complexity” of modern society was too confusing and alarming for most citizens to grasp. In response, they “constructed a simpler version of the world in order to hang onto power,” spreading propaganda narratives that would eventually come back and explode in their faces. In the 21st century, Hypernormalisation concludes, we are paying a steep price for all this smug self-delusion and toothless political theater. The cyber activists behind the Occupy movement and Arab Spring uprisings soon found themselves out of their depth in the dark, messy, bloody arena of real-world revolution. Western politicians have become ensnared by their own simplistic fantasies, leaving a power vacuum for would-be demagogues like Putin and Trump to fill with their cynically warped versions of reality. Source:

It felt like a kiss by Adam Curtis (2009): The story of America's rise to power starting in 1959, it uses nothing but archive footage and Amercia pop music. Showing the consequences on the rest of the world and in peoples mind. Americans, Curtis’ text tells us, “had found a new world to conquer inside their heads.” The film crescendoes to adventures in psychedelics and self-actualization, as the definition of “freedom” devolves into a lack of limit on consumption. And then comes the dark side: self-loathing, psychotherapy, self-destruction.

As Jeff Smith argues, Hank Williams’s self-destruction via substance abuse can itself be read as a commentary on the decadence of the American society represented in The Last Picture Show (1971) as past its prime and already in an advanced state of decay, leaving the movie’s young protagonists nothing to look forward to but ‘‘a life of quiet desperation, desolation, and death.’’ Fredric Jameson describes American Graffiti as the ‘‘inaugural film’’ in a new wave of cinematic nostalgia. Peter Bogdanovich’s much bleaker The Last Picture Show (1971), is a nostalgia film that locates the end of the good old days as early as the film’s setting in 1952 and 1953, associating the premature death of Buddy Holly in 1959 with the premature death of Hank Williams Sr. on January 1, 1953.

It is certainly the case that the most prominent nostalgic visions in recent American culture have focused on the 1950s, and the ‘‘mesmerizing lost reality of the Eisenhower era.’’ One major reason for the seeming desire of the 1970s to be nostalgic: the large first generation of baby boomers, who grew up in the long 1950s and graduated from high school at the end of that period, had now spent years in an adult world punctuated by the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the difficult economic times of the 1970s.

One of the most telling means of representing that nostalgia involves the phenomenon of time travel, in which a character or characters from the film’s present is transported back to the 1950s. Time-travel films have become an important genre of postmodern science fiction, but movies such as Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985) and Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) are hardly science fiction at all. Instead, they merely posit time travel of various sorts as a possibility in order to allow them to transport characters from their own present time into the setting of the 1950s. 

American Graffiti seeks, in an almost allegorical fashion, to parallel the transition of its protagonists from the simpler days of childhood to the more complex days of adulthood with the concurrent shift in American society from the sureties of the fifties to the more uncertain times of the sixties. The film clearly portrays this transition as a loss. As Jeff Smith notes, ‘‘The particular selection of songs serves to romanticize the late fifties and early sixties as a lost Golden Age.’’ By 1962, as John Milner notes, the good old days, even of rock music, are over. Thus, complaining about the new surf music, he concludes that ‘‘rock ’n’ roll’s been going downhill since Buddy Holly died.’’ —"Postmodern Hollywood: What's New in Film and why it Makes Us Feel So Strange" (2007) by M. Keith Booker

In February of 1974, Crawdaddy magazine featured a story by Tom Miller. The cover of the magazine carried the headline Who Killed Buddy Holly? The story alluded to an investigation of the accident undertaken by members of Watergate Senate Committee counsel Sam Dash’s staff. There were names of bus drivers and ticket-takers who had contact with the singers in their final hours and details of the accident itself. Superimposed on an illustration accompanying the article was part of the first page of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s aircraft accident report from September 15, 1959. I soon realized that Miller’s Crawdaddy story was a clever blend of fact and fiction. 

Besides the tragedy of the plane crash, the tour seemed doomed from the start. It seemed an odd proposition to me that singers of this magnitude would subject themselves to such treatment. I was determined to learn more about the Winter Dance Party tour. I placed an ad in the Mason City Globe-Gazette in early 1976, seeking information from people who may have been at the Winter Dance Party concert at the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake on February 2, 1959. In the front passenger seat, Buddy Holly was trying to persuade Roger Peterson to get the plane into the air. Reluctantly Peterson switched on the plane’s landing lights and turned the Bonanza into the wind.  

Whatever we may think of rock ‘n’ roll, we’ve got no choice but to admit rock ‘n’ roll is part of our national culture. Musical considerations aside, most of us could live happier without that nerve-jangling piano, that neurotic sax, and those jack-hammer rhythms. Rock ‘n’ roll has got to go. —Downbeat magazine, September 19, 1956

Backstage, DJ Bill Diehl recalls, the musicians were excited: "I can still see Buddy Holly going over and talking to Ritchie Valens. I saw him patting him on the back and talking to him and they’d peek out and look at the crowd. I’m sure Buddy was telling him to just relax and don’t be nervous. Buddy was kind of a parent figure. He was this tall, slender fellow making sure that the lighting was right, that the band instruments were right and that all the speakers were working. He was a very, very thorough fellow." Bob Hale (a local radio emcee) sat at a table in the Surf Ballroom lounge, sipping hot drinks with J. P. Richardson and Buddy Holly and discussing their three pregnant wives. Holly was disappointed to learn that Clear Lake didn’t have a place where he could get his laundry done.—"The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Budddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens" (ekindle, 2012) by Larry Lehmer

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teenage Impersonators: J.D. Salinger, John Lennon, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper

One reason that J. D. Salinger’s writing can seem juvenile is that it contains no adult sexuality, which is not the case with Mailer, Kerouac, and Burroughs. The Teenage Impersonator impersonated only boys. Salinger is Holden Caulfield, but Salinger is not Esmé. “What do you think about Esmé?” Salinger asked. “She’s right on the edge between the innocent wise child and the woman,” Peter Tewksbury said. “And the whole story rests on that moment... a minor chord that builds up to that peak moment before it becomes a major.”

Salinger agreed to allow Tewksbury to make his film on one condition: Salinger would cast Esmé. In March, Congress convened hearings as part of its investigation into the ratings industry. Tewksbury was the first person to testify. Tewksbury charged that ratings could be bought. Salinger admired Tewksbury, and not just for “It’s a Man’s World.” Toward the end of the nineteen-sixties, Tewksbury threw his Emmy out the window of a car and left Hollywood. Source:

It probably takes an eccentric to really do Howard Hughes justice, so the enigmatic Warren Beatty is well-suited to the film. Although he’s playing Hughes at a point when he was still in his fifties, Beatty, although often shrouded in darkness or seemingly wearing make-up to soften his features, looks remarkably good for his age and isn’t hard to believe in the role. Poking fun at his own ladies-man image, here Hughes is almost buffoonish with ladies, not that it matters much with his money. Largely playing the role for laughs, Beatty is funny in the role and seems to be having a ball, especially when imitating Hughes’s wayward way of making a point, while occasionally giving us a peek at the very real mental issues the mogul was facing.  Source:

Men who see themselves as playboys or as having power over women are more likely to have psychological problems than men who conform less to traditionally masculine norms, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. “In general, individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help, although the results differed depending on specific types of masculine norms,” said lead author Y. Joel Wong, PhD, of Indiana University Bloomington. The study was published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology®. Source:

The Howard Hughes of Rock and Roll: Phil Spector. When, in the mid-1960s, the British Invasion eclipsed him, Spector's fragile self-esteem was shattered. When he tried LSD, he glimpsed his father's suicide. Freaked by the Manson family murders, he withdrew behind electric fences, guard dogs, bodyguards and guns. His career-rescuing collaborations with John Lennon, likewise deserted by his father at a young age, concluded with Spector firing his revolver into the studio ceiling. Increasingly crushed by the weight of his own achievements, he took to the bottle and gradually faded.

Poleaxed by Lennon's murder in 1980, Spector disappeared altogether with a third wife, Rachelle Short, his erstwhile PA. When Mick Brown interviewed Phil Spector for The Telegraph, he seemed consumed by his self-image as Rock's Howard Hughes. Source:

John Lennon himself withdrew for many years, then tried peeking out again, with the tragic results we know. These questions come to mind in reading David Shields and Shane Salerno’s biography “Salinger” (2013) because, in one of the most bizarre sections of a bizarre book, they themselves raise the issue of murder-by-bad-reading, in connection with the murder of the Beatles’ John Lennon by Mark Chapman, who happened to have hallucinated a motive within “The Catcher in the Rye.” Shields and Salerno insist that Chapman was not just a crazy hallucinant, but in his own misguided way an insightful reader, responding to the “huge amount of psychic violence in the book.” Now, there is a section in “Catcher” in which Holden fantasizes about shooting, but it is exactly a bit of extended irony about the movies' effect on everyone’s imagination. In Salerno’s “acclaimed documentary film” a witness points out that the word “kills” occurs with ominous regularity in the text—failing to acknowledge that this is Holden’s slang for the best things. “She kills me” is what Holden says about his beloved little sister Phoebe. 

A simple theory is flogged: that Salinger was a victim of P.T.S.D., screwed up by a brutal combat experience in the Second World War. It’s a truth that Salinger himself dramatized at beautiful length in his story “For Esmé—with Love And Squalor,” and then left behind. Holden is far too young to be a veteran, and Seymour Glass was in the armed forces, like most of his generation, but never in combat: the proximate cause of his suicide is a bad marriage.

In any case, Salinger’s work emphatically editorializes its moral point, which is about as far from sublimating violence as any writing can be: Phoebe, the Fat Lady, Esmé, innocence, and small domestic epiphanies are good. Violence, the military, cruelty are all bad. That Salinger was wounded by combat is obvious;  Holden’s sweetness and essential helplessness was shared by hundreds of artists of the period (most of whom had never held a rifle). The two writers who meant the most to Salinger, Ring Lardner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, seem left largely out of the book’s discussion. Source:

Danger and death became essential ingredients of the rock generation's ethos, infusing young people with a sense of tragedy. The materialistic world of the fifties seemed to snuff out the sensitive, like poet Sylvia Plath, or drive them to nervous breakdowns, like Seymour Glass and Holden Caulfield. Rock and roll was banned on the BBC, but John Lennon listened to it on the privately owned Radio Luxemburg. The Los Angeles Buddy Holly discovered in 1957 was at its height as a supermarket of cockeyed metaphysical urges; a neon sign on La Brea advertised "Car Wash and Mind Control." There were Mildred Pierce-type restaurants with numbered booths and nice apartments on Holloway Drive that could be rented for $227 a month. On the road, Buddy Holly concealed his .22 in his shaving kit. He had acquired his gun when he started collecting the Crickets' performance fees directly from the promoters. The Big Bopper once said that you must always get a 'first count'. –"Buddy Holly: A Biography" (2014)

-Ear Candy Mag: In the book THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED, it was mentioned that the Big Bopper just wanted to stay in the singing business long enough to get money to buy his own radio station…

-Jay Perry Richardson: That's what dad wanted to do, mom says he wanted to buy a station in Denver to start with. For some reason he wanted to move to Denver. And the performing side of it, dad was really a shy kind of guy. When he put on that jacket or got behind a microphone, he was a character. People say, "Boy, your dad must have been a crazy guy". And, he really wasn't. I mean my dad. Now the Big Bopper, yeah he was a nut. That was part of the act.

The Big Bopper was a 'character'. That was not my dad, distinguish the two. My dad was a laid back, intellectual thinking kind of guy trying to move forward in the music business and had all these ideas and knew where he wanted to go. The 'Bopper' was the thing that he created for his radio show. And they just took it into his music. Just so happened the first song that he recorded - "Chantilly Lace" was the flip side of "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor". It just so happens that it took off. I believe that my dad just would not believe the way people react to his music today... he was just trying to make a living to support his family. Source:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving Parade in Philadelphia, Buddy Holly's honeymoon

This Thanksgiving, spend your morning at the oldest Thanksgiving parade in America. New York City's Macy's parade may be the most famous parade in the country, but the Philadelphia 6ABC Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade is the oldest. It started in 1920, sponsored by the Gimbels Department Store. And now it's back for the 97th year. The parade has a wide variety of floats and lots of balloons. Balloons include Tweety Bird, Olivia the pig, the Tazmanian Devil, Cat in the Hat, a T-Rex, Curious George, The Grinch, and more. Source:

Buddy Holly and his band, the Crickets created a template that groups from the Beatles to Nirvana would follow. And it was a Philadelphia radio personality who helped launch Holly's career. In their book Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly, co-authors John Goldrosen and John Beecher credit longtime WDAS disc jockey Georgie Woods with helping "That'll Be the Day" become a hit in the summer of 1957.

Bob Thiele, who was in charge of scouting and artist development for Coral Records, which included Brunswick, confirmed Deutch's account for Goldrosen. "For weeks and weeks, nothing happened. There were no orders," Murray Deutch, of Peer-Southern, which handled Holly's music publishing, told Goldrosen. "All of a sudden, the record started to sell. The sales department called, and they had one order from Philly alone for 20,000 copies."

That led to the Crickets appearing on Philadelphia-based American Bandstand on Aug. 26, 1957, miming to "That'll Be the Day" in one of their first appearances on national television. While the broadcast helped the song top Billboard's singles chart, Crickets drummer Jerry Allison had mixed emotions about the presentation: "We had to act like a vocal group," he recalled, even though he and bassist Joe Mauldin never sang on Holly's recordings.

Holly and the Crickets came to Philadelphia on October 28 to promote their new recordings for Dick Clark on American Bandstand. Allison recalled a tense moment in the dressing room before the show. Someone from Clark's staff asked Holly to return the check he received as a favor for Bandstand's playing his songs. "Buddy stood up for himself and refused," Allison says. "He told him, If Dick doesn't like our songs, tell him not to play them." In early November 1958, Holly, Allison, and Mauldin went their separate ways over differences with manager/producer Norman Petty. 

For his final tour in early 1959, Holly formed a new band that included future country star Waylon Jennings on bass. Jerry Allison was just 19 when he and Holly split, leaving him to wonder what would have happened if they had stayed together. "That might have been the worst mistake I ever made," he says now. Source:

Jerry Allison was, according to Peggy Sue, often angry or depressed. It seems that she never loved him (“Standing at the wedding ceremony. The biggest mistake of my life.”) What do we learn about Holly? Always kind and understanding, like his parents, but he could erupt when pushed. When his car got blocked by some hoods, he reached for his gun and said, “I’m giving you five seconds to move that fucking car and then I’m going to start shootin’.” We learn that he helped “the Lubbock girl with the bad reputation” when she got pregnant. “Really, I loved her”, Holly reportedly said of her. Except when she went shopping, Maria Elena seems to have been in a permanently bad mood, and simply “shaking her head in disapproval”. Right from the start of the joint honeymoon, she told Holly and Allison to stop playing around, and spent the evening eating alone in her room.

Maria and Jerry seem to have spent some of the honeymoon as drinking buddies, but she turned against him, and she said to Peggy Sue, “If he thinks he can‘t be replaced, he should think twice”. One of the most bizarre passages is when Maria accuses Norman Petty of looking up her skirt. Do you want me to ask Norman for money to buy my panties, Buddy?”, Maria urged. At first, Buddy kind of laughed it off and Jerry was chuckling as if Maria had told a joke. But she kept it up and Buddy finally said sternly: That's enough, Maria Elena! After the funeral, Maria told Peggy Sue, “I’m going to get the man who killed Buddy”. However, Peggy Sue says that Norman had always paid and the assets were being held up by the promoter, Manny Greenfield. 

What has always set Buddy Holly's persona apart from others in the rock ’n’ roll pantheon is its air of maturity, sympathy and understanding. To successive generations of fans he has seemed less like an idol than a teacher, guide and friend. His songs have become synonyms for a drape-suited, pink-Cadillac belle époque which we have come regard almost with the same misty-eyed nostalgia as the golden years of Hollywood.  "Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly" (2014) by Philip Norman