Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tip of the iceberg

On the 50th anniversary of the plane going down, various necrophiliac journalists have been contacting me, as the campus's/city's resident "expert" (oh, puhleeezz!) on Buddy, about his prior, potential, actual, or hypothetical impact. Here's just a fraction of what I'd want to say about Lubbock's most despised son--he was a genius, and the small-minded jackasses and boosters who are the "city fathers" (hah!) have never grasped his impact except insofar as they anticipated making a buck off his corpse:

-What do you feel is the most important thing Buddy Holly did for the music industry?

There are four areas in which Buddy was an enormously influential archetype:
(1) As a performing songwriter: someone who both wrote and sang the songs. Prior to Buddy, it was much more common for the songwriter and the performer to be two separate people, with little collaboration between them.
(2) As a guitarist and arranger: along with Chuck Berry, he is probably the most influential rock guitarist before George Harrison of the Beatles. Also principal popularizer of the Fender Stratocaster.
(3) As a bandleader: Buddy & the Crickets in their original incarnation were the archetypal rock "power trio" (guitar-bass-drums). Buddy's truly orchestral guitar parts were the backbone of that trio sound: Eric Clapton (Cream), Jimi Hendri (Experience), and Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin) all took note.
(4) As a popular artist who understood that, in order to truly control his *creative* output, he would need to control his financial, contractual, and business organizations. He took steps to control his song-publishing rights, royalties from songs and recordings, and other creative activity.
-What type of music do you think most influenced Buddy?
Everything he heard: Western swing and Texas fiddle music a la Bob Wills, church hymn-singing, pop songs heard over the radio, the prototypical "rock 'n' roll" of Elvis and Little Richard, and, quintessentially, African-American music: R&B, hard blues, black gospel, jump blues, etc;
-What do you think changed in music after Buddy’s passing?
Nowhere near as much as would have changed had he lived. Had the plane not gone down, he would have continued writing, arranging, playing, producing, and developing new artists--I believe even down to the present day. What did change, even with his early and tragic death, were the 4 areas I cite above: (1) performers writing and singing their *own* music; (2) the ubiquity of the electric guitar as a tool for the rock "front-man"; (3) the ongoing presence and centrality of the "power trio" as a standard rock instrumentation, along with the standard "2 guitars, bass, and drums"; (4) continued awareness, on the part of at least some artists, that controlling the legal and financial rights pertaining to their artworks was an essential part of maintaining autonomy as an artist.
-Is there anything you think people don’t know or realize about Buddy?
Just how wide, pervasive, and ongoing his influence has been and continues to be: in the '60s generation of the Beatles, the Shadows, the Kinks, and the Hollies; in the late '70s/early '80s "New Wave" of artists like Talking Heads, Television, and Sonic Youth; to an extent, in the "Alternative" revolution of '90s Seattle bands like Nirvana and Yo La Tengo.
This is, again, just the tip of the iceberg of his genius.

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