Song written and performed by Buddy Holly
There once was this bassist for a band called the Beatles. He bought a song publishing catalog from a thief and a liar who stole money from a widow and her offspring. The bassist then did his best to repair the damage done and made sure the money started flowing to the widow. If he never did anything else, then that would be enough.
Just thought we ought to tell the right story every now and then.
Everyday it’s a-getting closer, going faster than a roller-coaster.
I love the way the song seems to speed up as Holly sings, as if you’re riding over the camel humps at Cedar Point. I adore Patti Smith and Lou Reed and all the other rock and roll poets, but this is the single best moment in all rock and roll lyrics, even if the song can barely squeeze into the loosest possible definition of the rock genre. Maybe Leiber and Stoller could have come close, but this was the singer interpreting the song that he had written.
It’s hard to imagine how unusual that seemed at the time. You could find singers who acted in movies scattered all across the firmament, but it was apparently unthinkable that they might have the gumption to sit down at a piano and work out a tune or two. Sure, the instrumentalists might come up with something- might even lead the band and compose some instrumentals… but words- good gracious, no way! My only guess is that rhyming dictionaries were heavily rationed until 1960.
Coming of agewith Don McLean’s American Pie and the “day the music died,” it has become impossible to separate Holly from the tragedy of his early death at 22. A miracle hides within that horrible event. No matter how front and center that loss may be, just sit down and play a bunch of Holly’s music. The power and the glory of his accomplishments overwhelms the tragedy. He made so much fantastic music in so short a time. Hank Williams and Clifford Brown may be the only other premature deaths of that era who created enough to help their audiences move past the pain. That does not help make sense of it all, but it does hint at a certain vitality that runs through the greatest of all art.
Ultimately, being self-aware animals, we spend so much time focused on the worst events and worst behaviors. We remember mistakes far more easily than accomplishments. Our memorials tend to commemorate deaths as much as they celebrate lives. We do ourselves a disservice when the end of the story becomes the entirety of the story- we need to rise above our natures. That’s the purpose of art, to elevate us all together.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 143 more to go.
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