Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Buddy Holly Died for Our Sins

Buddy Holly's death was like a mythic sacrifice, plane dropping from an icy sky into the frozen American heartland, the blood of Holly and his compatriots flowing over the ground, replenishing rock n' roll so that the music didn't die as maybe it should've. Instead it lived another few decades before eventually (after Kurt Cobain's death-- the last great original rock talent) fading away.

The last six months of Buddy Holly's life remain a mystery. He seemed on a hectic pace to cram as much activity as possible into these weeks, as if he knew he hadn't much longer to live: The mystery of Holly's sudden marriage to a woman he scarcely knew one month after Peggy Sue married drummer Jerry Allison. (Allison's drumming is omnipresent on Holly's recordings.) Ostensibly because of a dispute with producer Norman Petty, Holly broke from the Crickets and fled to New York City. (Yet and and new bride Maria Elena invited Peggy Sue and Jerry Allison along on their honeymoon in Mexico City.)

There's the mystery of Buddy Holly's final recordings found as from beyond the grave on his Ampex tape recording machine.

It may be that artistic genius is marked by an ability to feel more deeply than ordinary people. The last recordings show that Buddy Holly felt very deeply indeed. They're imbued with yearning, loneliness, and melancholy. "What to Do," "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," "Learning the Game," and "Peggy Sue Got Married" are not the products of someone who's just happily wed!

"You recall a girl who's been in nearly every song" he reveals in the second recording named after her. He named the first one, "Peggy Sue," after her supposedly only at Jerry Allison's request. Yet the song makes sense with no other name. Any other name would destroy the relentless alliteration: "Pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue." What other Sue could he have been thinking of, anyway, than the beautiful ubiquitous presence of the band's narrow small town life?

Another strange part of the story is that for Buddy Holly the "music died" before the plane crash. Holly was no longer able to crack the Top 40. He signed on to the shoddy Midwest "Winter Dance Party" because he was barely able to pay the rent on he and his bride's cold Greenwich Village apartment. Elvis was in the army; other stars vanished for other reasons. Rock, at that time still a rinky-dink flash-in-the-pan movement, seemed to many to be over.

Considering it included some of the biggest remaining names in rock n' roll, like Holly, Dion, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, the Winter Dance Party was a pathetically low-budget, marginal affair. How big could rock have been? They played for small sums in gyms and VFW halls for hick teenage residents of cow pasture towns far from any semblance of a real city.

Earlier that cold, cold winter, before Holly departed, he left a handful of last recordings on his Ampex machine. Genius recordings. Who got them after his death? Were Norman Petty and Jerry Allison involved in the later overdubbing? This would have been appropriate.

Rock music didn't die that night. It was resurrected. The plane crash became legendary. A Buddy Holly song went to #1 in Britain, hugely influencing the Beatles, Stones, and most of the rest of the bands who became the British invasion a few years later.

It's a mythic story; unreal. Peggy Sue; Maria Elena. Nothing is logical or certain about any of the tale.

We're left finally with the image of a plane falling out of a frigid night sky.

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