The Buddy Holly connection

Brockton, Mass.

October 4, 1975

Dear Don,

I got your letter, and I thank you for it. In writing my book, I was exposed enough to the world of show-biz to know that I wouldn’t want to be part of it, but I retain enough innocence or naivete to find it a thrill to get a letter from someone like you.

In December 1971, I had just arrived in Lubbock, Texas and was beginning to work on a draft of my book. The first thing I did was to write a sort of introduction – a justification for writing seriously about a rock ‘n’ roll singer from the Fifties. After all, the prevailing orthodoxy was that early rock ‘n’ roll was primitive and meaningless, and that things had been improving ever since. If you’ve even seen collections of articles by critics put out around then, that’s the attitude that emerges. But I know I didn’t feel that way, and I knew that most of my friends had turned off their radios by ’67 and were waiting for music that you could listen to and dance to and understand. They went to oldies record hops and Sha-Na-Na shows to enjoy the music, not to make fun of it. But it seemed like the media couldn’t see that, and so I found myself writing an apology or defense for what I was doing. Then one day, I heard your song, and was absolutely floored. In a couple of lines, you had poetically made a point that I had spent fifteen pages trying to express. And by the time I was ready to approach publishers, I could scrap that introduction – it was unnecessary, because that “progressive” view that rock ‘n’ roll was always improving was no longer much accepted. Maybe you were just the right person in the right place, but that’s what history’s all about.

Like you, the most pleasure I will get from my work will be the people who get exposed to Buddy Holly through my efforts. Also, there’s the satisfaction of doing something that a lot of fans have been hoping would get done for some time.

It took a long time to get the book published. I sent it to a lot of big publishers, but their attitude was, “Who’s Buddy Holly?” Or more gently, they didn’t think there was a market for it. One reader put it more bluntly (in a memo I wasn’t supposed to see): “Rock fans don’t read.” So that is why I wound up with Bowling Green Popular Press. The problem now is that it’s a small publisher, and I’m not sure they can distribute or promote it adequately. (Indeed, my initial reaction when I got your letter was, “How did he find out about the book?” Because if there have been any reviews, I haven’t seen them.) It’s not important to me that the book “sell” –  I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet the people I did and learn as much about Buddy as I did, and that’s all I need. But I do hope that the book gets some exposure so that Buddy’s fans will know that it exists. And I’m worried that might not happen. Writing the book was easy compared to all this stuff. (In England, of course, things have been easier. The book’s been put out in paperback there and has sold 10,000 copies in a month, and has had all sorts of publicity on radio and in magazines.)

Right now, I’m working as an environmental planner. As you can probably understand, I didn’t write the book in order to become a “professional” writer – I never felt the need for someone’s stamp of approval, and getting a book published didn’t make me a better writer. I just did it because no one else had, and it was about time. So now I’m writing reports on local groundwater supplies, and if it’s not so dramatic, it has its own satisfactions.

I almost got to see you perform in Lubbock, just before I left there in March 1972, you were due to come in for a show, but then you were ill and the show was cancelled. I live about 25 miles from Boston now, so if you’re ever going to be there, let me know. I’d like to meet you sometime.

Once again, thanks for writing. I like your music, and as much as that, I like your attitude towards “stardom” and your refusal to let people make something of you that you didn’t want to be. Being true to yourself is such a simple notion, but the pressures  to do otherwise are immense. That’s one thing I’d like to have people learn from my book on Holly – that he grew with success, but was not destroyed by it. He had a sense of personal responsibility, and he wasn’t scared off by how tough it was going to be to do what he wanted to do.

Thanks for singing our song, and best wishes in all you do.

Sincerely,     John Goldrosen

P.S. If it wasn’t clear from the book: MCA put out that terrible set after taking it away from Boylan – it was completely contrary to everything he wanted to do. So blame it on some ignorant big exec’s, not Boylan.

Buddy Holly is one of Don McLean’s biggest influences and his untimely death in a plane crash in 1959 is immortalised in ‘American Pie’ as ‘the day the music died’. Though Buddy Holly is a superstar today, his fame had almost vanished by the end of the 1960s. That all changed in 1971 with the release of ‘American Pie’ and it has been said that if it wasn’t for Don McLean then nobody would have heard of Buddy Holly today. In fact not only is Buddy’s music highly popular, but his life story has been made into a successful movie and musical. The inspiration for the movie ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ was John Goldrosen’s definitive biography of Buddy Holly written over a 12 month period in 1971-72. John Goldrosen was one of the first to acknowledge Don McLean’s success in rejuvenating interest in Buddy Holly. In 1975 John wrote to Don and this intriguing document has been made available to us by Don McLean. In it you will see how important ‘American Pie’ was in the Buddy Holly story. As Don says, “this is not patting myself on the back, it’s just how it really was.”

Letter

6 Comments

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  1. Excuse me? Buddy Holly was almost forgotten by the end of the ’60s!? The Beatles recorded his “Words of Love”. Ever heard of The Beatles (whose name was inspired by Buddy Holly and The Crickets)?

    Buddy Holly was not forgotten; perhaps — more correctly — later generations hadn’t heard of him. But not having heard of him, they could not have forgot him.

    And certainly those who grew up with The Beatles knew of Buddy Holly — either before then or as result of The Beatles.

    Or have The Beatles also been forgotten?

  2. I read somewhere that Lennon had a dream which said to call his band ‘The Beatles’ spelt with ‘ea’, but I’ve ALSO read that it was inspired by Buddy and The Crickets. :S
    I don’t think that if American Pie hadn’t been released, that people wouldn’t know of Buddy Holly, though Don McLean perhaps helped his stardom by writing a song to do with his and other musicians deaths.

  3. I think it is sad that so many kids have no clue where music we listen to today comes from. If it hadn’t been for those pioneers getting “their” sound out we would have nothing today.

    If it weren’t for Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, The Beatles and countless other musicisans then there would be outlet for new artists.

    I grew up with a mother and father that were born in the early 50s. I have been entirely blessed with the fact that we grew up with the music they grew up with, plus our music.

    We have been doubly blessed by musicians. I know msot of the words to all the old songs and can’t imagine not having then in my life. They have shaped who I am and who my brothers are. We are all musicians because we have been touched by the lives (albeit some were way to short) of these men and women who bore their souls so that others could enjoy the product.

    I do not think any musician is forgotten. They may not be known, but never forgotten.

  4. The confusion here is between Buddy’s recognition in Britain and America. Even Lubbock hadn’t recognised its own son until after a hurricane wiped out the middle of the town. As has been written, the Beatles recorded Holly tracks, including “That’ll be the day” before becoming famous, the Stones recorded Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, their first big hit in the USA, and the Hollies name is self-evident. All of this happened in the UK in the Sixties. The saying “a prophet is not recognised in his own country” is certainly true of Buddy Holly. “American Pie” undoubtedly helped in a resurgence of interest in the US in the Seventies. How sad that when Madonna released a version, she never referred to the Holly connection when talking about it (or did I miss something?. Did she even talk about the fact that Don had written it?

  5. I am a musician influenced by Buddy Holly`s music and he was killed five years before I was born. His influence can be heard in everything from the Rolling Stones to the Beatles and on to this day with bands like Weezer. To say that he was or is almost forgotten is just not true.

  6. In March 1957 John Lennon formed a skiffle group called The Quarrymen. Lennon met Paul McCartney on 6 July 1957; Lennon added him to the group a few days later. On 6 February 1958, George Harrison was invited to watch the group. Harrison joined the Quarrymen as lead guitarist after a rehearsal in March 1958. Lennon and McCartney both played rhythm guitar during that period. After original Quarrymen drummer Colin Hanton left the band in 1959, the band had a high turnover of drummers. Lennon’s friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined on bass in January 1960.

    The Quarrymen went through a progression of names, including “Johnny and the Moondogs” and “Long John and The Beatles”. Sutcliffe suggested the name “The Beetles” as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets. The band then changed their name to just “The Beatles”.

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