Not Fade Away
“American Pie” was just on the radio, and immediately after wincing, I remembered why it’s actually appropriate to play that song today: It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the day the music died.
Buddy Holly’s early death was one of the great tragedies of rock and roll. Considering what he accomplished by 22, it’s almost — but not quite — impossible to imagine what he might achieved. I’m not sure what’s the most impressive of his achievements — his unprecedented musical sophistication for his era, his providing the Beatles with their primary inspiration, or his stretching out the word “Well” to no less than six syllables at the beginning of “Rave On”.
I’ve loved Holly since I was a kid. My dad didn’t have a single Beatles or Elvis record, but he had plenty of the Beach Boys and Holly. I grew up listening to the stuff, and my tendency to champion the lesser-known but equally brilliant underdog comes from this.
As for my mom, I think she could at least take Holly’s death as a vindication: He wasn’t wearing clean underwear at the time. The decision to charter a small plane is usually attributed to frustrations with an unheated tour bus, but Holly was also eager to get to the next stop because he’d run out of clean undershirts, socks, and underwear and needed to do laundry before his next performance. Not only that, but after smashing into that Iowa cornfield, poor Buddy suffered the further indignity of a torn scrotum in addition to his more fatal injuries.
Buddy’s poor lacerated ballsack had certainly seen better days. Though it’s at odds with the bespectacled Holly’s rather square image, the man was a rock star. According to Little Richard’s authorized biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard, Holly once enjoyed a threesome with Richard and Richard’s girlfriend, Angel Lee:
Buddy liked Angel. He was a wild boy for the women. One time we were playing at the Paramount Theater and Buddy came into my dressing room while I was jacking off with Angel sucking my titty. Angel had the fastest tongue in the West. Well, she was doing that to me and Buddy took out his thing. He was ready, so she opened up her legs and he put it in her. He was having sex with Angel, I was jacking off, and Angel was sucking me, when they introduced his name on stage! He was trying to rush so he could run on stage. He made it, too. He finished and went to the stage still fastening himself up. I’ll never forget that. He came and went.
Hmm. This is starting to seem like less than the tribute I’d planned. And it’s no greater indignity than being played by Gary Busey in the movie of your life, or, for that matter, by Kevin McDonald in the Kids in the Hall clip I’ve embedded below.
Anyway, it’s a comfort to think that Holly crammed a lot of living into a short life. Neil Young’s line that it’s better to burn out than to fade away is often associated with Kurt Cobain, who quoted it in his suicide note. But I’d be amazed if it didn’t have its genesis in the last song Holly ever sang, in his final performance at The Winter Dance Party before his fatal plane ride, his “Not Fade Away”.
Buddy, our love for you is still bigger than a Cadillac. And it will not fade away.
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