In less than a week I’m heading to Texas, and I’ve decided to write about one Texas Musician per day until I get there. So allow me to introduce you to the first tall, lanky, awkward rock musician that ever stole my heart (as if you need the introduction, which you shouldn’t): Buddy Holly.
This is going to be fun!
You see, Buddy Holly’s always fun. Everybody loves Buddy Holly! In my opinion, anyone who says they don’t is lying to themselves, just holding onto the juvenile idea that anything light-hearted and straightforward is amateur. If you’re a human being, and you have a heart-beat, and you have relationships with other human beings, you can’t not like Buddy.
So let me tell you an awesome story about a bunch of people who really like Buddy Holly. It’s going to be long-winded, but this is my blog and I’ll do what I want.
Last October two very dear friends of mine decided to marry each other. They live out on a ranch in Columbus, TX, so the ceremony and reception were held in a converted old school house in Dubina. Guests were to camp on the ranch about 30 miles away. More than just a wedding (and what wedding is ever just a wedding?), it was also a reunion of a couple dozen friends who hadn’t seen enough of each other in the past few years. We came from Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis, Tuscaloosa, Massachucetts, New York and California, but we all had strong ties to each other and to the state.
The reception was unlike anything I’d ever seen. After the ceremony everybody crammed into this old dance hall that the groom’s father used to sneak booze into when he was a teenager. There was barbecue on the grill, Shiner on tap and a live band that could play every song Hank Williams ever wrote. I two-stepped barefoot with the groom’s dad Jim, a cattle rancher and German teacher with a doctorate from The University of Texas. There were bandannas and bolo ties as far as the eye could see.
At some point someone asked if the band could play any Buddy Holly and before I had a chance to re-hydrate I was twisting and shouting to “Rave On”. Generations of Buddy fans were with me on the dance floor. I’d dance with my eyes closed for a few seconds than stop and look at whoever was near me. I saw the groom’s youngest cousin, who couldn’t have been older than 12. The bride was nearby, singing along to every word. I’ve known her since we were 15, but I didn’t know she knew all the words to this song. At one point I turned to my right to find Pat, a baby boomer who looks remarkably like a late-in-life Ernest Hemingway. I thought it was neat that he had been alive for Buddy’s brief celebrity in the late fifties. I wondered how many times he had listened to that song, and in what context it had been important to him because it was obvious that he really really liked it.
I knew when and how that song had been important to me. I knew it reminded me of my mother teaching me how to dance, of working Saturdays at the store, and of sitting shotgun in my bosses car, bonding over a mutual appreciation of rockabilly music. I tripped out on that for a moment. I wondered how many different memories there might have been in that dance hall at that given moment. I did not doubt that we all had distinct personal relationships to “Rave On” and to the man who was famous for singing it. Those distinct personal relationships might have nothing to do with one another, but there we were shaking our asses, creating new memories and adding layers to our own lives. And why? For no other reason than that we’re human, and we care about each other, and it’s fun, damnit.
No one can doubt the influence Buddy had on rock and roll music. For starters he and The Crickets are credited as the first self-contained rock band: two guitarists, one bassist and a drummer, making it possible for a live performance to sound perfectly similar to the 45. Buddy was the first four-eyed rockstar, and I doubt anyone can see a pair of heavy black frames without immediately thinking of him. He was also one of the first in the industry to write his own material (not “Rave On” though, interestingly enough) and he was idolized by some of the most influential musicians of the second half of the 20th Century. Legend has it that John Lennon said “There would not have even been a Beatles had it not been for The Crickets.”. Though his death may have inspired the most aggravating nine minutes in music history (I’m looking at you, “American Pie”), we can’t really fault him for that, now can we?
The course of modern popular culture was certainly altered by this one kid from Lubbock, TX, but even more interesting to me are the imprints he left on the smaller scale. Celebrity is such a fascinating phenomenon, especially when it involves actual talent. The fact that a singular human, isolated by distance or time or even death, can have such an acute affect on the lives of strangers, well, I don’t fully understand how and why that happens. I know it has something to do with the theme of Buddy’s music. The uncertainty of love and the vulnerability associated with putting your heart in the hands of another are universal experiences. What is so powerful about Buddy’s take on the subject, however, is his unwavering optimism. “Oh Boy”, “That’ll Be The Day” and “I’m Gonna Love You To” all present a narrator with enduring self-confidence, even in the face of a lover who either doesn’t know he exists, had told him she plans to leave, or has straight-up rejected him in favor of another man. He sings about heartbreak and fear and loneliness, but not like other important artists like Billie Holiday and Hank Williams who often leave you feeling more desperate than you started. He sings about it with a sense of empowerment that is not only easy to relate to, but easy to embrace. It’s like it forces you to break out of your shell, shake your ass, sing along, and have the best time ever.
In making himself so accessible, he also provided his fans with a platform through which they could relate to one another. In doing so, this lanky kid from Lubbock with terrible vision, long dead and gone, has no doubt facilitated interpersonal relationships across the world for the past 60 years. When you think of how he influenced artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead and what affect those artist have in turn had on modern culture, well shit, he’s kind of a big deal. That doesn’t make any sense! It’s a phenomenon!
Wow. Raise your hand if you had too much coffee and wrote over 1,200 on Buddy Holly just for the hell of it. Oh. No one else? Just me? Okay. It’s safe to say I’m a bit obsessed with Buddy Holly. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed right now. I know this essay is self-indulgent, but I hope it doesn’t come across completely fucking bonkers. Loved ones, if you are concerned please call me and I will assure you I’ve not had a psychotic break. It’s just that when I think about Buddy Holly, I’m always reminded that no human being is truly isolated. We share experiences and emotions and identities. We share fears and worry, because life is uncertain and scary to navigate. Buddy Holly reminds me that even the scary parts can be fun, precisely because everybody else has been terrified at one point or another. I get overly excited about this, because it’s only recently that I’ve begun to feel this way.
Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly was killed almost 40 years before I was born, but I know that he’s played a significant role in my life. If nothing else he’s given me something timeless to enjoy, countless moments of unadulterated fun. He even provided me with an awkward spiritual awakening at a Texas wedding. I came home to California and tattooed the shape of Texas on the inside of my left ring finger because I don’t ever want to forget just how much fun that was. Who knows what any of that means. All I know is that I’m going to listen to Buddy Holly on my bike ride to work today and that I look forward to one day teaching my children how to dance and sing along.
Just remember all birds and bees go by two through life’s mysteries…