Saturday, February 21, 2009

Frames Like Mine

Earlier this month on February 3rd, was the 50th anniversary of the death of Lubbock's number one son, rock n' roll pioneer Buddy Holly. It's impossible to talk with anyone here in town who hasn't heard of Buddy Holly; he's got a street named after him and another one named after his band "The Crickets," his bronze statue stands in front of the Civic Center, and a museum dedicated to his life sits in downtown Lubbock. Though everyone knows of Buddy Holly, not too many know about him, especially the young'ns (me included), so I took a trip to the Buddy Holly Center to learn more about this enigmatic rocker.

The museum itself consists of a large, one room exhibit, a video room that rolls a biographical feature, and a small gift shop. I thought the place would be bigger than it was, but as I wandered through the exhibit and learned more about Holly, I began to understand why the museum is so small: Holly's career only lasted three short years before the plane carrying him and his band crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa.

Although Holly's career was cut short, it was action packed and truly international. Long before the "world touring rocker" was born, Holly was off touring in Brittan and Australia, inspiring some of music's greatest talents along the way. His appearance on a London band show sparked the creativity and admiration of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, aka the Beatles, who chose their band name reflecting Holly's own band, the Crickets. Buddy Holly influenced so many bands and songs, e.g. Weezer's "Buddy Holly" just to name one, that you'd think no one had heard the electric guitar before Holly started strumming it. Now if only Bono would give him a shoutout.

I've been listening to Buddy Holly's music for a couple of years now, but it wasn't until I visited the museum that I learned how groundbreaking much of it was. Because I wasn't a part of Holly's era, I really don't have the cultural experience of hearing his music as it shakes up the status quo. A sign of the times, it's easier for me to appreciate innovations in electronic music by Daft Punk, or identify with "geek rockers" like Weezer. But a lot of what Holly cut onto records was innovative and utilized every circuit of the day's technology.

One example of Holly's inventiveness can be heard on the cheery song "Everyday." The drum beat behind the chimes doesn't quite sound like a heavy drum smack, and that's because it's not. Holly wanted a lighter sound to express the light-hearted spirit of the song, so instead of using drums, he placed a microphone up to his knees and slapped out the beat with his hands, giving him just the sound he wanted. Holly had a clear vision of how he wanted that song to sound, and he devised a way to realize that vision using the resources he had--low tech or not.

As a son of Lubbock myself, Buddy Holly's short but packed career is inspiring and challenging to emulate. I'm not saying I long for rock n' roll fame, but I do aspire to creatively actualize my passions and see where those passions take me. I wonder what Holly's friends and family thought when he came back to flat and dusty Lubbock with tales from Europe and Australia. Shoot, in his day flying anywhere-and landing-was a story in itself, much less flying overseas with a guitar in hand instead of a machine gun. Holly's ambition must've been bigger than the State of Texas, and ambition is well worth emulation.

Even after learning about Buddy Holly's life, I can't say that his music moves me. It is nice to play while lingering about the house, but it definitely wouldn't carry a road trip. No, his music doesn't make me like him, it's his qualities like his work ethic, his uncompromising devotion to his craft, and his openness to the world that I admire.

I also like his glasses, the black horn-rimmed glasses that define his image. I think in his day those were the only kind of glasses for sale, but nowadays a pair of Holly-esqe frames are hard to come by. Almost three years ago before I left for Japan, I searched all the Lubbock eyeglass shops for a pair just like Holly's but came up short. Oddly enough, I found my Rayban Wayfarers in a small eyeglass shop in Kuki City (久喜市), a town half the size of Lubbock and neighbor to Washimiya Town where I lived. At least once a week I'm complimented on my glasses and asked where I bought them. "The closest place to buy 'em," I say "is just north of Tokyo." It's regrettable that in Buddy Holly-crazed Lubbock, you can't buy a pair his frames anywhere. (However, you can get the conservative-sheik Sarah Palin frames, the very same ones, at a few shops in town.)

So while Buddy Holly and I may have nothing more in common than horn-rimmed frames and being from dusty ol' Lubbock, it's what's behind the frames that counts, and his example is one that hits close to home.
Buddy Holly's real last name was spelled with an 'e' in it but was shortened for the stage.

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