One summer when I was six or seven, my grandfather took my cousins and me to Gemco (in case you’re unfamiliar, it was the Target of the 1980s). We each got to pick something, a small gift from Grandpa. My older girl cousin chose a dainty white watch. My brother got himself a toy car. Me? I went with The Best of Buddy Holly on cassette tape.
It was the first album I ever owned, which is fitting since Buddy was my first musical obsession, my first rock star crush, the first artist whose songs I knew all the words to. And it’s not because I was an old soul or had particularly great taste in music. Subsequent favorites included A Chipmunks Christmas and MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, if that tells you anything.
I loved Buddy Holly because my dad loved him—at least that’s how it started. “Forget Elvis, he’s the real King of Rock n’ Roll” he’d say to me (and I’d repeat to anyone who’d listen). He’d play his record for us and I’d study the album sleeve: that smiling face, those thick-rimmed glasses, The Crickets. I remember thinking Buddy looked like such a nice person, so innocent, perfect. It made me sad to think about his untimely death and even sadder to think about the fact that he’d died before I was even born. As if an overlap in time on earth, however short, would have somehow brought me closer to my idol.
It’s not hard to imagine why his songs would appeal to a young child, either. “Everyday” is basically a lullaby. “Peggy Sue” is a high-energy track, all rolling drums and fun-to-sing lyrics like “pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue.” And on “Reminiscing,” Buddy duets with a saxophone. (Side note: I always thought he was saying “a mean mister eater” when in fact he was saying “a mean mistreater.”) His voice, which in one song can range from baritone to falsetto and always with that signature hiccup, had a playful quality. I couldn’t get enough of it. I still can’t.
Happy Birthday Buddy! You were a great one. The real King.