Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What If Buddy Holly Had Lived?


February 3rd defined the fiftieth anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, as well as Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The legendary plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa continues to trouble our conscious souls otherwise our society would not persist in honoring these celebrated artists. For example, Hollywood’s somewhat biographical depiction of The Buddy Holly Story, an actor’s brief rendition of Buddy in La Bamba, Broadway’s production of Buddy- The Buddy Holly Story, a new Australian musical which opened on Feb. 3rd of this year, the movie dedicated to one of his song, Peggy Sue Got Married, and of course, the ever-so infamous song, "American Pie." And certainly there is a much longer list of pop cultural influences such as Pulp Fiction, The Simpsons, and Quantum Leap, but I think you get the picture.


Dying at the age of 22, (and how many of us dare to remember our early twenties?), his life had just rose the anchor before sailing off into uncharted waters. He began his rock ‘n roll profession in the late 50’s when this new and wild music propelled as if a hurricane. Although he wasn’t the founder of rock ‘n roll, (and it’s a difficult journey to track as to whom truly was the founder because the styles of rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, folk, country, and spirituals fused like a nuclear bomb,) Buddy’s influences are just as powerful. Even after his death his influences are persevered in the ashes of his wake. But since he had made such a forceful impact, I have to ask the paradoxical question: What if Buddy Holly had lived?

I realize I am NOT the only who has indulged in this kind of musing. Obviously. Nevertheless let’s first take a peek at where he came from to the point of his emergence. Now I also realize for those who are die-hard fans, this reflection is something you already know and has become second natured. Be patient and humor me!

It may be common knowledge that he was born in Lubbock, Texas on September 7, 1936, (the same year the summer Olympics were held in Nazi Germany, Roosevelt ran a second term for president, Mutiny on the Bounty won best picture, and the Spanish Civil War and the war in China against Japan were set in motion. Also it was the year that Robert Redford, Jim Henson, Alan Alda, Bobbie Darin, and Michael Landon were born.) Furthermore it might be common knowledge that his real name was Charles Hardin Holley, Buddy being his nickname and that his last name was a misprint on a recording label but he decided to keep the misspelling to save future confusion. He was raised in a musical family and had been playing in a duet since junior high. But how many of you knew that although he played guitar, piano, and the violin, he could not read or write music? And that although he occasionally smoked but didn’t drink alcohol due to a stomach ulcer?


Now there are other legendary stories revolving around Buddy and his former band, The Crickets. For instance, picking names of animals and insects for band names were a popular fad, and ironically The Beetles was almost a consideration, but The Crickets was ultimately chosen. Their reasoning: Texas usually harbors millions of crickets, and since Texas was place their of the grass roots, it naturally suited them. In addition to their name, at the end of “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” a chirping of a cricket can be heard. And then there’s the song “Peggy Sue,” which was changed from “Cindy Lou.” The drummer, J.I. Allison wanted to impress his girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron, after having an argument, but Buddy had wanted to keep the title in honoring both his sister and his niece, both named Cindy. On on bet, Buddy told J.I. that if he could speed-up the beat of the song, then they would change the title. Needless to say, Buddy lost that bet.


Sadly the band parted ways when Buddy wanted artistic sovereignty from the recording studios and moved to New York. The Crickets stayed in Lubbock. Even so, the breakage didn’t hinder Buddy from pursuing his musical ambitions. He went solo and toured with other celebrities such as Dion and the Belmonts, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. The tour had just began, making several stops in the Midwest before the ill fated day had ended it all. But what if Buddy hadn’t made the arrangements to fly in that small plane? What if everyone had either rode the bus or waited until the strong winds passed? In other words, what if Buddy Holly had lived?

Having dealt with the complications and contradictions of the recording studios, before his death his funds were frozen and lawsuits claims that continue even today, Buddy had plans to build his own recording studio called Prism outside of Lubbock and then to create a publishing music company called Taupe Publishing. In fact, he and Ritchie Valens were constructing plans to work together to help record and publish Ritchie’s music without the big company’s restrictions. This naturally would have liberated various possibilities for those who were dismissed by the bigger companies. Not just for the rock ‘n roll industry, but for the world of music in general. In particular, minorities, and perhaps specifically, the Hispanic community. Since Buddy was a Texan, he grew up in a mixed culture, even if his town was predominately white and was named after a former Confederate solider. The Mexican culture is the second highest population and continues to grow.

In spite of the growing Hispanic culture in America, only a handful have actually permeated through mainstream. By the time Buddy emerged into the music scene, there was Ricky Ricardo, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and Ritchie Valens. Following them were Carlos Santana, Gloria Estefan, Selena, (another untimely death,) Jennifer Lopez, Jon Secada, Enrique Iglesias, and Christina Aguilera. Of course they are more I have yet to mention, but he point I’m trying to convey is that by comparison to the majority of musicians in the United States the number is still underdeveloped. Perhaps Buddy could have sponsored a handful more.


I have no doubt he would have been involved with the Civil Rights movement. In high school he named his cat after Booker T. Washington and gave his dog a Spanish name, Alonzo. He and The Crickets played at the Apollo Theater, one of the few white bands to do so in the late 50’s. If he became more politically active, how would that have been reflective in his music? The Beatles had started with fun diddles, but the much needed social issues forced America to change and their songs did reflect those challenges. Who knows, Buddy could have also been on J. Edgar Hoover’s list which included John Lennon, Charlie Chaplin and remarkable, Eleanor Roosevelt, (due to her public speaking for racial equality. But because Eleanor was the president’s wife, the matter wasn’t pushed.) The reason Elvis wasn’t on that list because Elvis, with sincere intentions for being a loyal American, agreed to give Hoover any names of people he knew in the entertainment world who were suspect of Communism or any other radical ideology.

Buddy probably would have done the Hollywood scene, competing with Elvis, Bobbie Darin, Bobbie Fisher and Doris Day just to name a few. More than likely he would have done the typical romantic-musical comedy bits. But since he was highly intelligent and versatile, it would be interesting to see if his career could have become more serious, dramatic; similar to Frank Sinatra.

Would his old band have reunited with him? After shaking my magic black Eight Ball, most definitely. First of all, when Buddy had left The Crickets it wasn’t because of personal clashes which often plague bands with outbreaks of mutiny! And I’m quite sure the guys had missed his company as well as his success which is rumored that they were considering reuniting with Buddy. Not only that, if he was in the process of opening his own recording studio in Lubbock, that would have resolved all of their concerns regarding keeping true to their roots!

Would he have still been married to Maria? Well, that really is a much more difficult question to mull over little alone answer. He did propose to her on their first date after only spending five hours with her. She has been noted to have understood the legalities of the music business and has been a fierce advocate in preserving her husband’s music. Being an orphan and raised by her aunt, she never came to terms with Buddy’s premature death. She didn’t attend his funeral and never has visited his graveside. As she explained to the Avalanche-Journal: "In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn't with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane." Because they married so young, it could have gone either way, but there seemed to be a mutual respect for each other that could have remained in a long-term friendship. But Buddy was also raised by a strong, supportive family which would have made him a faithful family man.


Would he have kept his glasses? If he wanted to change his image, and didn’t want to deal with eye surgery, soft contact lenses were first created as a prototype in 1961 but would not be ready for commercial distribution in the United States until ten years later. Prior to that, contact lenses were first assembled from glass and hard plastic which made them uncomfortable to say in the least. But it wasn’t until 1982 when bifocal contact lenses became available commercially. Nevertheless, by the time technology made contact lenses an easier option, Buddy would have been in the public eye for about twenty years and to see him without his glasses would seem a bit odd. When you think of Buddy, those thick glasses often come to mind! After all, whether intentional or not, those glasses are his trademark!


I’m not the only one who has conceived of this idea of the “what if” paradox. Bradley Denton, another writer from Kansas by the way, wrote a science fiction prophecy called, Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede. It’s a humorous spin on American culture, comparing Buddy to Jesus’ second coming, with a sci-fi swivel that includes the supernatural and aliens. And Denton plays off of Greek mythology of Ganymede, a divine hero who was a Trojan price and was considered so gorgeous among the mortals that Zeus had to have him to serve as an immortal cup bearer to the gods. Boy, you gotta love those ancient Greeks! And talk about a narcissistic complex, right Woody Allen?

Another sci-fi paradox is an anthology series called, Wild Cards, written by various authors on a single theme, also known as a shared universe. This theme, as you can guess, is about Buddy, the divine hero.

So, would his career have survived fifty years? He influenced The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen. His popularity continues to charm our subconscious already, so I would have to say, “yes!” I believe his career would have survived along side of his legacy.

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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