Today in 1959 it was the day Buddy Holly died in a tragic plane incident, taking Richie Valens with him. In my mind Buddy Holly is possibly even more important than Elvis in the development of R&R. Although Elvis was the undisputed King that also made him untouchable, Elvis was iconic from day one. Nobody could dream of touching him, save for Jerry Lee Lewis for a while maybe, until Buddy Holly came along. With his nerdy glasses and his very wholesome looks Buddy was closer to where America's teenagers were than the highly sexual Elvis or the rough and tumble Jerry Lee. Buddy looked like he could have been that kid next door, like he could have been the boy from class. Though Elvis brought Black R&B to white teen agers, Buddy Holly (by accident) brought R&R back to the Black crowds when he was accidentally booked in the Apollo theater in Harlem. His appearance there might have been instrumental in making R&R acceptable to the black audiences leading to the temporarily abandonment of the R&B billboard charts when R&R and R&B started to cross over both ways for a while.
Like many of these tragic events the crash was caused by many unlucky circumstances. In the weeks before Buddy had been touring with a bus. Getting tired of the hectic schedule he decided to switch to a plane. Holly's base player at the time, Waylon Jennings, jokingly told him he hoped the plane would crash when he found out there wouldn't be any room for him on the ride. Jennings got stuck in the freezing bus while Buddy got to go on a comfortable plane ride. The plane would crash minutes after take off, leaving Jennings wrecked with guilt for years. Though Don McLean called the tragic crash "the day that music died" in a throwback to Buddy's hit "That'll Be The Day" this hardly seems to be the case. Buddy Holly proved to be highly influential on the development of R&R. Partly I wager because of his somewhat common looks combined with his highly sophisticated brand of R&R. Buddy Holly was a mean guitar player and an imaginative songwriter who managed to capture the teen experiences like few other R&R artists have. His songs have been covered by a large range of artists. Most notably of course the Rolling Stones, who scored one of their break through hits with Holly's "Not Fade Away". Which was Buddy's take on the Bo Diddley beat. The song was subsequently a a regular in the live shows of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and even Bob Dylan, who would later claim that his renaissance album "Time Out Of Mind" was highly influenced by Buddy. Springsteen also did a mean version of "Oh Boy" in the seventies.
Not just Buddy's music became important. His clean cut nerdy image has become somewhat of an icon as well over the years. Somehow when we think of the fifties we tend to think more of images that look like Buddy Holly than we'd think of Elvis. Somehow Buddy's clean cut image is synonymous with the fifties when everything just seemed cleaner and simpler. Though far from the case, Buddy does represent that idealized version of the fifties. It is that style pattern that artists like Elvis Costello would tap in to to built his image and that Weezer would wink at in their song and video "Buddy Holly". As wholesome as American pie, Buddy Holly today really does belong to that fantasy world of "Happy Days". In the movie Pulp Fiction Buddy Holly, or a waiter that is supposed to look like him, is played by Steve Buscemi in a scene set in a nostalgia restaurant. In series like the Simpsons Buddy Holly is used in similar references. He even had a posthumous film score hit with "Peggy Sue Got Married" for the 1986 movie with the same title, created from an unfinished demo tape discovered years after his death. Again the film is filled with nostalgic images of the fifties. Sometimes it seems like Buddy Holly is trapped in that nostalgic world filled with melancholy for a place that never existed. As such we'd almost forget what a great and fantastic artist Buddy was, but be it as it may, Buddy will not fade away. He's one of those artists that is forever inscribed in our collective conscious even if we never were part of the fifties.