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In Memory of Buddy Holly: The Day the Music Still Lives

I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride
but something touched me deep inside the day the music died.

February 3, 2009, marks the 50th anniversary of "the day the music died."  A half-century ago, a 23-year-old Buddy Holly boarded a plane on a wintry Iowa night with fellow package show headliners the Big Bopper and adolescent Richie Valens.  After a now legendary coin toss with band bass player Waylon Jennings, the three stars took their flight into rock and roll lore.  In terms of rock history, the tragedy of that light aircraft crash in Iowa marked the end the era of 50's rock.  It was a time and a place when innocence could still be truly innocent. While Elvis was out womanizing, Johnny Cash was popping pills and Jerry Lee Lewis was marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Buddy Holly was still sending 10% of his income to his Baptist church in Lubbock, Texas.  Holly didn't womanize or do drugs, instead, he got married to a woman his own age.  For Buddy Holly, the Christian ethic and world view were a given, without question.  It was such a part of his life, he never thought to doubt the faith of his fathers as neatly woven into his career.

The Buddy Holly Story biopic falsely portrays his parents and his pastor disapproving of his rock and roll music.  In reality, they were all thrilled with both his music and his success.  While other small town Texas communities encouraged sports as the main point of achievement, for Lubbock, musicianship was of equal, if not superior value.  After all, this was the land of Bob Wills and The Sons of the Pioneers.  From my own amateur rock historian perspective, I often wonder what would have happened to rock and roll had Holly lived on. My innocence envisions him leading The Beatles to the Lord and ushering in an eternal age of youth and clear-eyed innocence.   But, this is, I admit, at best naive.  Its hard to say where Buddy Holly's musical journey would have led him.  As it was, he was beginning to form partnerships with more pop driven artists like Paul Anka and using some pretty un-rock and roll sounding strings and arrangements on his latter day recordings.  Listen to "True Love Ways."   Its beautiful, yes, but not the raw, joyful sound of "That'll Be The Day."

But, in the end, we can continue celebrate the geeky, unsexy guy from West Texas who during the late 1950's once again caught the nation up in the energy, youthfulness and passion of true rock and roll as he extended the Yellow Sun days of Elvis and Sam Phillips for a few more years.   He gave us true rock and roll; and as Garrison Keillor once noted in a story, he was the guy all of the geeky Lutheran boys could look up to. His image was the right one for the everyday kid in the 50's who would never have the looks of Elvis.   He was the guy you could allow your sister to date.  Keillor in his clever story of two teenager's pilgrimage to the crash site the morning of the tragedy, mentions that something in Holly's music seemed to be based on 'sanctification by grace.'   I have no idea what he was talking about.  But Buddy did capture a kind of music that kept its vitality while losing nothing of his own Christian faith. As Bruce Springsteen once said, "I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest."

So, if you think of it, smile a smile for Buddy Holly on February 3rd.  Maybe sing a line or two from "Oh Boy" or "Peggy Sue."    (When I was two years old I called it, "Piggy Sue."  This was one of my earliest memories.)   Think of Buddy Holly and think of all things innocent. It was a half-century ago, but, in fact, the music still lives on.  As for me, I'll pick up an old beat up acoustic guitar, give it a full open strum of a G chord and sing: Everyday its a getting closer--going faster than a roller-coaster--love like yours will surely come my way, uh hey, uh hey hey.

Terry Roland


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