Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


FEBRUARY 3, 2013 2:57AM

Rave On

Rate: 10 Flag

buddy holly 

February 3, 1959. Fify four years ago today. I feel like a recordite. I should be sitting on the courthouse steps, dust laying in the wrinkes of my neck, rambling inanely to anyone who will listen. For some reason there is no dust, there are no wrinkles, there are no courthouse steps. I am young, looking at 68 and talking about "Fifty-four years ago, blah blah blah." It is incongrous. There is something wrong with me. But this is what happened 54 years ago, and why it matters and doesn't, and does.

I'd gotten up and gone to school. I was anticipating my 14th birthday with ambivalence. The school day had gone not unlike Chuck Berry's song of that name (School Day). It was cold, so I'd come straight inside instead of hanging on the corner with my misfit friends. It was February 3rd, 1959, a year that was to become significant to me for more reasons than what happened in the wee small hours of that day (actually sometime after 12:55 AM central time). Television programming went off at between 10 and 11 o'clock on weekdays, sometimes earlier. The radio may have been on the night before, but news traveled more slowly then. Decent people were in bed anyway, and up early and off to work.

I walked inside and tossed my books on a chair, started to pull off my coat, grumbling to myself about the cold weather and thinking about a girl who had dominated my life off and on since 5th grade. I was headed for the kitchen when my mother called from upstairs. I don't know what she was doing up there, but it wasn't unusual for her to be collecting laundry to be carried two flights down to our basement.

"What?" I answered, quickly remembering I should have said "Ma'am?" instead. I was not corrected. Instead my mother, a very alert, aware woman who had been verging on a possibly great singing career when I was conceived and gave that possibility away right then, but who sang around the house and listened to popular music and loved the same artists and musicians as I did, shouted "Sit down!" 

"I didn't do anything," I shouted back defensively.

"Just sit down. I have to tell you something."

I sat down. There was something wrong. I ran through a list of possible bad things that might have happened. My father? Maybe that wasn't it...

My mother did not come downstairs. Instead, I could sense, she had come to the top of the staircase. She said "Are you sitting down?"

"Yes," I answered nervously.

"Buddy Holly is dead."


Buddy Holly is dead. His plane crashed last night. There were some other musicians with him. They are all dead. I'll be right there."

Blank. That's not right, I thought. That's not possible.

My mother came quietly down the stairs, set a basket of dirty clothes on the arm of the sofa, looked at me, and repeated it.

"He's dead. I'm sorry. I can't believe it. His plane crashed."

I had nothing. She was being totally straightfaced and wouldn't joke about something like that. She admired Buddy Holly and knew I identified with him very strongly, even though I would have preferred to have been born Jackie Wilson. Her face conveyed a dolor I had seen before and saw again afterward.

I stared straight ahead. I had only had to deal with death twice before, once when I was 3 and had only a minimal notion of cause and effect, and once 3 years earlier when my uncle, my father's younger but identical brother, had died of catastrophic Ehlers-Danlos complications that we eventually came to learn were probably inevitable. I had taken nearly a year to get past that. This was different. It made no sense.

My mother came over and stood near me. She put her hand on my shoulder. "He was only 22" she said. I nodded. 

I realized the radio wasn't on in the kitchen.

"I'm going downstairs," I said in a monotone.

"Okay. I'll be down in a minute."

The room at the bottom of the stairs was a flourescent-lit fully finished hangout. It was where the music got played, where artwork was created and model planes and cars assembled over on the formica dinette table between the double-hung wood windows. The afternoon sun streamed in despite it being a basement. Everything looked the same. There were 45 RPM records everywhere as usual. The arcane turntable my father had bought sat on top of a bookcase next to the Bell mono receiver. It was hi fi, man! One Klipsch speaker. No longer the Webcor portable player that had become the province of my cousin Sharon, who lived with us, my surrogate sister. We all shared the same music, though. 

I looked around the room, and I found that the song (attributed to The Crickets, but which was simply Buddy Holly marketed two ways, both identical arrangements of musicians and lead singer, on two different but afiliated made no sense, it just was)..."That'll be the Day" was playing in my head. I couldn't bring myself to put it on, though, as it suddenly seemed eerily prophetic, with its line "That'll be the day....that I die."

Finally I realized there was only one way to bring Buddy back to life, one song that could ressurect him or at least my dreams of being in his presence. I put it on and turned it up. My mother came through as I was flipping through the records, started her load of laundry, and came back in just as it started to play:

And yes, then he was there, alive and the "wild man" Little Richard had described in an interview later, with insane glee.

My cousin appeared in the room like a ghost, which was her way, and she said nothing, just knowing.

We all rocked and moved to the music. It was like a mini-wake.

When the song was over, my mother, the hippest mom I ever knew, at least back in that dark era, turned toward the stairs, then looked at me and at Sharon, sighed, then said in a resigned-yet-onward tone:

"Rave on."
And then she was gone, and only the music was there.
Later in the year a single was posthumously released, strings added, something Holly would never have stood still for, but it resonated powerfully with me. I heard it on the radio one morning upon waking, and it left a message that could not be ignored, a message about time and the past, present and the future: 
Strangely, he was right -- and yet it did matter. The words to that song have come home like chickens to roost. Buddy Holly happened, he left his indelible mark, and then he was gone. It doesn't matter now, yet it matters enormously.

"Don't look back, " said Satchel Paige; "Something may be gaining on you." 

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
"There you go and baby here am I
Well you left me here so I could sit and cry
Golly gee what have you done to me
Well I guess it doesn't matter anymore

Do you remember baby last September
How you held me tight each and every night
Oh baby how you drove me crazy
But I guess it doesn't matter any more

There's no use in me a-cryin'
I've done everything
And now I'm sick of trying
I've thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you

Now you go your way baby and I'll go mine
Now and forever 'till the end of time
And I'll find somebody new and baby
We'll say we're through
And you won't matter any more

There's no use in me a-cryin'
I've done everything
And now I'm sick of trying
I've thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you

Now you go your way baby and I'll go mine
Now and forever 'till the end of time
And I'll find somebody new and baby
We'll say we're through
And you won't matter any more."

---Buddy Holly
What a sweet remembrance. I was only 8 when he died, but I still know the words to most of his songs. Rave on.
Steve Kenny: There it is, plain as day. It was so strange hearing that. Fascinating seeing it here now like a poem. Thanks for that.

jlsathre: Funny how so many of us absorbed those songs. He is like a mysterious fixture in the musical lexicon. Those songs - and that voice - were unique. Thanks for reading.
He was a musical Icon. His words and work still resonate.
This piece just sings. I know his iconic music but have only retroactive memories from others of Buddy Holly. You've added a whole new personal dimension to them for me. Thank you. And how lucky you were to have such a hip mom.
He was, and remains, an icon, Sheila. He was no saint and neither was he the pencil-necked geek some took him for. Anyone who ever saw him perform could tell you that. Little Richard was right. His mind was on fire. His music remains seminal and largely unique. The beatles tried. They came the closest. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

Sally, thank you so much. It was very personal for me, and though I did not know him personally I felt as though I did. I've lived through the loss of some awfully good friends from the music business since then. It is never easy, but this was maybe the most personal loss of all. Thanks for your comment. I'm happy to have brought you and Buddy a little closer. And yes, I was incredibly lucky to have such a hip, talented, funny and very feeling mom. I was incredibly blessed.
Well, he's been called ""the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll." and has influenced everyone to come along since in one way or another. Great tribute AJ and such a nice look into your teenage years.
We saw the theater show of "The Buddy Holly Story," again and my husband almost cried.
Rave on indeed. I love your mom and this remembrance which was as much about the freedom and respect she gave you as it is about Buddy Holly. My guess is we will Rave On this group of us for some time.. Wonderful writing.
This is beautiful I wish you would share it on Our Salon, just a suggestion? Thanks AJ
Wow. A great memory, seems like a personal loss to you and yoru mom. Thanks for reminding us of his great genius.
Wow, AJ. Great memories, wonderful piece. ~r
Thanks for sharing this beautiful post and music, AJCalhoun...what a wonderful Mom.
True, Tink...and a legend was born. Sucks.

trilogy: Thank you! Undoubtedly one of the greatest musical influences, and one of the most prolific, since he did it all in a mere 3 years.

jackie2: I can only imagine. It would be hard for me to watch again, yet I'm sure, given the chance, I will.

Thank you, rita. Yes, it was definitely as much about the freedom my mom allowed me, because she trusted me, and that trust was not wasted. She was an incredible inspiration to me, as was Buddy Holly and a lot of other people. That would include, by now, a lot of the folks here, and yes, I believe the bunch of us will rave on here for quite some time to come.

(Oh, and yes, I will definitely repost over at Our. Thanks for reminding me!)

Bernadine, thank *you* and yes, I think it was as great a loss for my mom, who really admired and enjoyed his music. It was also hard for her to have to be the one to tell me.

Joan H., thank you. I'm so glad you get it - not that I'm surprised.

clay ball, you are welcome, and thank you for reading and for the great comment. My mother was one in a million. I have been blessed beyond (as I've written here before) my wildest dreams.