Remembering one early pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll

Sarah Allen

February 4, 2014

When most people my age hear the name Buddy Holly, they probably think of the 1994 single by the rock group Weezer. The catchy chorus, which begins “Oh, wee-ooh, I look just like Buddy Holly,” probably means nothing more to most young adults than an upbeat tune.

Sadly, I doubt most even know who Buddy Holly was.

They don’t know the bespectacled Texas youth who took the nation by storm with hits such as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Maybe Baby,” and “Peggy Sue.”

They are not familiar with that quirky vocal hiccup Holly used in nearly every song.

And they, of course, do not know that next Monday marks the anniversary of his death, which was immortalized by singer/songwriter Don McLean as “the day the music died.”

Buddy Holly has been my all-time favorite singer since I saw an impersonation of him in Gatlinburg. Tenn.

The impersonator could not have captured Lubbock’s rock ‘n’ roll pioneer better: though reserved and quiet when he talked to the audience, he underwent a Jekyll and Hyde transformation as soon as he began singing, becoming energetic and confident. He even slid across the stage during “Oh Boy!”

To a shy girl, who also wore glasses and hailed from a small town, the idea of Buddy Holly was immediately captivating.

Since that time, I have turned to Holly’s music for nearly every mood. His music has energized me while I get ready in the morning. His songs have been my go-to therapy when a day turns sour. But above all, his music has given me memories.

One of my favorites is a memory with my grandma, who passed away when I was a junior in high school.

The two of us were sitting in her room, and I was telling her about my school day. My Buddy Holly CD was playing in the background, and during a pause in conversation, we could both clearly hear the song.

“Yes, think it over,” Holly sang. “A lonely heart grows cold and old.”

“‘A lonely heart grows cold and old,’” my grandma repeated. “How does he come up with words like that?”

It’s a brief memory, just one little snapshot of the many days my grandma and I spent together. But, for some reason, that moment always stuck out to me. Maybe it was the fact that Holly’s words, even though he’s gone, were able to connect a grandmother and granddaughter so long after his death.

Holly, like many other long ago singers, was able to affect his listeners even as years rolled by and times changed. Even to this day, Holly’s influence permeates popular culture.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney both said Holly affected their music.

According to the Rollings Stones’ Keith Richards, Holly had “an influence on everybody.”

And Bruce Springsteen once said, “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest.”

In addition, Holly’s songs have been covered numerous times. The Beatles did their own version of “Words of Love.” In 1964, the Rolling Stones’ cover of “Not Fade Away” became their first U.S. single. That same song was also covered by rock band Rush. And, in 2011, Cee Lo Green covered Holly’s “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care).”

Holly’s legacy, to me, is reassuring. In his short 22 years on this earth, he left something behind.

And ultimately, that is what everyone hopes to do: leave some mark, hopefully good, whether large or small, in their wake.

Nowadays, when I come across a popular song, I can’t help but marvel at the vast difference between rock ‘n’ roll’s pioneers and today’s singers.

Between the promiscuous lyrics, the auto-tuned singing, and the general lack of originality, I can’t help but find it hard to believe that today’s singers will, years and years from now, connect a grandmother and granddaughter the way Buddy Holly and his contemporaries have.

But maybe they will. The test of time is not known for being predictable.

I’m just glad that it all started with musicians like Buddy Holly, who, even as times change, will always have a place in our culture.

Sarah Allen may be reached at (937)393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.