Back to Lubbock #1: “I look just like Buddy Holly”

Go ahead and try it. Type the phrase “Buddy Holly” into the search engine of your choice. Maybe not the first, but the second and third things you find will not be rock legend, singer-songwriter Buddy Holly, but the video by Weezer, “Buddy Holly.”

This video is enjoyably duplicitous. It appears to show a simpler time; innocent, tender years when matching sweaters were de rigeur, guys were clean cut, girls were fluffy and bouncy, and nothing was more fun than dancing and doing homework at the local malt shop. Your television history reminds you that this video is a homage to a simpler time, but not the post-World War II era. Rather it’s the post Vietnam era, when Jimmy Carter told us to turn down the heat and put on a sweater, and we were still years away from the Reagan-Bush I- Bush II regimes. Punk was getting ready to rumble. It was 1994 when Weezer and director Spike Jonze took Garry Marshall’s 1970’s hit Happy Days and wed it to MTV, to highlight the social phenomenon that is The Buddy Holly Look, while still placating young people that they’re OK.

What’s the message behind this medium? Why and how have so many male artists embraced this look, made variations on its theme, then variations on the variations and passed them on to the next generation? What it is about the Buddy Holly Look that endures?

Before we go any further, let’s go back to the original. Buddy Holly’s driven blend of country and blues was seminal to the work of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and probably any rock band or artist you can shake a Fender Stratocaster at. Volumes have been written about his short life and wide influence, but little has been said about his look. Holly probably wore what was most natural to him, without even realizing he was the perfect blend of Serious Upstanding Young Man and Wild Child. Most iconic are the heavy-framed glasses. They dominated his fine-boned face, enhancing the width of his forehead and the narrowness of his jaw. They grew bigger and heavier with his success, a sly taunt to the rock promoter who, in 1956, insisted Holly’s 20/800 vision was a greater risk onstage than wearing glasses if he wanted to be like Elvis 1 His hair was a combination of brilliantine gloss, topped with a mess of curls. His skin was as impeccably smooth as his suits.

Up close, Holly seemed a choirboy, the kind of guy you’d love to hire, have meet your mother or marry your daughter. From a distance, all angles and edges, Holly was a knife. His angular physique and tailored suits contradicted his age. Even if he were young, he was nobody’s fool. Holly was no stranger to fistfights, and carried a gun 2. His Texas upbringing provided much more than mere swagger and twang. By treading the line between sweet-faced salesman, rocker, composer, entrepreneur, boy and man, Holly embodies the changeling or trickster icon of 1950s America. The bite and bounce of Holly’s music assured his place in the rock pantheon as someone who would never grow old. Unfortunately, a plane crash cut his life short in February of 1959, leaving rock music lovers with a yearning unfulfilled and a fiery crash that matched his fast life.

For thousands of young men today, if they can’t play like Buddy, at least they can wear glasses like him. In subsequent posts, we’ll examine the phenomenon of The Buddy Holly Look, its uses, message and meaning.

(1), (2) Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly, by Philip Norman. Copyright 1996, Simon & Schuster.

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~ by manifenestration on July 15, 2008.

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