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The Everlasting First: Buddy Holly

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

I was too young to ever know the full story. But my older brothers had a neighborhood friend named Nancy Cook; the only two things I can tell you about Nancy would be that she loved pop music–who didn’t?–and that she died at a young age, not yet 30 years old, in a car accident in the mid ’70s. It’s not the sort of thing I want to ask my brothers and sister about, even all these decades later. But I know that she was gone, too early, too young. And I also know that before she died, she left behind a collection of her 45s.

My first conscious exposure to Buddy Holly came via Don McLean. I was one of the many who just adored McLean’s smash hit “American Pie” in 1971, while having not Clue One of what it was about. At the height of the song’s popularity, an article appeared in, I think, either Life or Look magazine, discussing the song’s genesis. And it was there that I first read about the day the music died: February 3rd, 1959, when a plane crash ended the life of this singer named Buddy Holly.

Many years later, I would learn more about Buddy, and about Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, who perished with Holly in that crash. In ’71, I just felt the sadness of “American Pie”‘s lyrics, lyrics which mourned Holly while recalling I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. Devastating. Even at the age of 11, I recognized that song’s poignant mix of sorrow, regret, wistful remembrance, and subtle hope. And I wondered to myself: who was Buddy Holly?

I entered eighth grade in the fall of 1972. In ’72 and ’73, as my interest in pop music continued unabated, I began to look more and more into supplementing my AM radio lifeline by investigating what interesting records might already be in the family collection. Both of my brothers had moved out on their own, and had presumably taken the bulk of their record collections with them (though Art had left the first two Monkees albums behind). My sister was still in college, and I don’t remember what records she’d left in North Syracuse and what she’d hauled off to Adelphi University. But there were still some rock ‘n’ roll gems at the house: a few Beatles albums, a Dave Clark Five single, The Live Kinks, and probably some Grass RootsThree Dog NightGene PitneyRick Nelson, and Who. While rummaging through the collection one day, I discovered two little bound volumes of 45s; these little collections of singles had Nancy’s name written on them.

As I examined these buried treasures, I made mental notes of the artists’ names, both familiar and unfamiliar. I’d never heard of Ivory Joe Hunter, but I was taken with “You Can’t Stop This Rocking And Rolling,” the B-side to “Since I Met You Baby.” I knew Elvis Presley, of course, though it would still be a few more years before I cared about him, and I’d likely heard The Coasters‘ great “Charlie Brown” on a TV commercial for some oldies compilation. But the most intriguing discovery was a 45 on the Coral Records label: Buddy Holly. “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday.” For the first time, I was finally going to hear a Buddy Holly record.

And I was a Buddy Holly fan, just like that.

Both sides of the single captivated me. The hypnotic, rolling percussion of “Peggy Sue,” and Holly’s repeated, insistent pleading Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue, combined to convey sheer, urgent desire. On the flip side, “Everyday” eschewed the earthiness of “Peggy Sue”‘s primal plea, and opted for a (seemingly) chaste wish for pure love everlasting: Every day seems a little longer, Every day love’s a little stronger, Come what may, do you ever long for true love from me? A rendezvous in the bedroom, backed by an earnest ache to be happy together forever and ever? Yeah. Yeah, I’m good with that.

Throughout eighth grade, each day before school, I tried to make time to listen to both sides of that 45 before grabbing the bus. At some subsequent point, while enjoying my sacred Beatles stash, I noticed that a song on my favorite album, Beatles VI, was written by Buddy Holly. “Words Of Love” was a Buddy Holly song? Ahhhhhh! I couldn’t have been more hooked on Holly by that point, but I’d reached a temporary plateau nonetheless. I only knew a mere three Buddy Holly songs, and one of ’em was by Fab Four proxy. It would be a few years before I could advance beyond that.

But Holly days would come at last. There were further Holly proxies to discover first–Linda Ronstadt‘s “That’ll Be The Day” and The Rolling Stones‘ “Not Fade Away”–and an amazing Holly soundalike, “Sheila,” by Tommy Roe, before I could truly discover the wealth of the Buddy Holly catalog. The 1978 film The Buddy Holly Story was an integral catalyst, even though I knew it was largely fiction. But I loved that movie anyway, and it prompted me to buy Buddy Holly and The Crickets‘ 20 Golden Greats best-of.  “Oh Boy,””Rave On,” and “Well…All Right” immediately became fave raves. I received another Buddy Holly collection, He’s The One, from my friend Jay, filling in my Holly collection with additional tracks like “Rock Around With Ollie Vee,” “You’re The One,” “Dearest,” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You.” In 1984, Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” became my wedding song, so it has a meaning for lovely wife Brenda and me well beyond other pop songs.

I haven’t thought of my siblings’ late friend Nancy in years. I asked my Mom about her recently, and Mom’s face lit up with the memory of Nancy and the rest of my brothers’ friends hanging out at our house years ago.  Mom remembered how hard it hit everyone when Nancy was killed. Try as I might, I can’t remember Nancy at all. I can’t mourn her, but the thought of her too-short life nonetheless inspires a wistful…well, not quite melancholy, but yet another reminder of the tenuous nature of our time in this world. Buddy Holly also died too young. In my mind’s eye, Buddy is singing to Nancy right now. Love like yours will surely come way. They say Buddy Holly lives; if that’s true, then Nancy Cook lives. too.

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10 Songs

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.

THE B-52’s: 52 Girls

When I was in college, there was a girl (whom I’ll call Roxy) from somewhere downstate in the dorm room kitty-corner from mine. Roxy felt her musical taste was jarringly outta step with that of our peers at our school. I felt her pain; I was roughly as much of a musical oddball as she was. Roxy liked punk and its anti-mainstream ilk, and she had no use for the prevailing Deadheadedness that was the preferred soundtrack of our fellow students. We weren’t exactly friends, but I was one of the very few sympathetics she encountered. I was impressed that she had seen Sid Vicious at Max’s Kansas City. And she was one of the first people I met who liked The B-52’s; in our dorm in 1979, before “Rock Lobster” became an alt-pop staple and long before “Love Shack” became a hit, Roxy, my roommate, and I seemed to be the only prospective members of any hypothetical Perry Hall B-52’s Fan Club. 

Even more than “Rock Lobster,” “52 Girls” was my early B-52’s favorite, a chugging milkshake of catchy, spastic pop. Roxy’s frustration with her four-cornered surroundings likely contributed to her decision to hightail it outta there; she didn’t finish the semester, and may have been gone within the first month. The following spring, my roommate and I helped to put on a successful Punk Night at a bar in town. Maybe Roxy shoulda tried to stick it out?

For dramatic purposes, the role of Roxy shall be played by singer and actress Debbie Gibson.

BLUE OYSTER CULT: This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

BOC’s best-known tracks are “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and (later on) “Burnin’ For You,” with maybe an honorable mention for “Godzilla.” My favorite remains “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” a lean and efficient LP track from Agents Of Fortune (the album that gave us “Don’t Fear The Reaper”). I learned of the song through my doomed high school pal Tom, prompting me to purchase my own battered, used copy of the album in time for college. During my freshman year, Side One of Agents Of Fortune was as much a go-to slab of vinyl as my Sex Pistols and Monkees records, and “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love” in particular fit well alongside my steady diet of RamonesTelevisionJam, and Dave Clark Five. My friend Ronnie Dark mentioned Agents Of Fortune last week, and that was sufficient motivation for me to play this great track once again.

THE DARLING BUDS: Let’s Go Round There

The Darling Buds’ 1989 debut Pop Said… is the only album I can recall buying just because Rolling Stone magazine told me to. A review of the record in RS name-checked The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, and Blondie in its attempt to describe the group’s sound, and I was sold on it, unheard, right then and there. I think I made the purchase before hearing “Let’s Go Round There” on MTV‘s 120 Minutes, a show I committed to VHS every Sunday night, and it certainly became my favorite Darling Buds track (edging out “The Other Night” and “Hit The Ground”).

THE JACKSON FIVE: I’ll Be There

Simply exquisite. This is such a magnificent pop single, and it rates a chapter in my (theoretically) eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Enjoying the innocent sound of the young Michael Jackson requires a disconnect with the (credible, I think) accusations of his crimes as an adult. If we can make and maintain that separation of art and artist, The J5’s “I’ll Be There” offers sheer, sweet joy. A friend advised me last week that it’s probably okay to make that separation, especially in this instance of records made decades before MJ’s alleged misdeeds. He’s probably right. Your mileage may vary.

THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

When I was in the process of becoming a Kinks fan at the age of 16 and 17 (circa late ’76 and into ’77), “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” was a mystery track. I had seen the title listed in reference works, but it wasn’t a Kinks song I knew, like “Lola” or “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “A Well Respected Man,” or even “No More Looking Back” from Schoolboys In Disgrace.  I recall hearing Status Quo‘s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” on the radio, and wondering (with no real-world justification) if that might be “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.” I have no memory of where, when, or how I finally heard “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” but I do remember that I was initially underwhelmed by it. 

Well, that reaction sure changed over time. In the summer of 1979, the first time I saw the fab local combo The Dead Ducks, my pal Joe Boudreau and I bellowed along with the Oh yes he IS! as the Ducks covered the song. Many, many years later, I have a specific memory of strolling through a shopping mall with my wife and daughter as “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” came on the sound system. Just as I’d done as a teenager, I began to bellow along, Oh yes he IS! My then-teen daughter was mortified. Hmph. It’s as if she didn’t think her Dad was in fashion.

KISS: Anything For My Baby

“Anything For My Baby” is an LP track from the 1975 KISS album Dressed To Kill, the record that gave the world “Rock And Roll All Nite.” The song was written and sung by Paul Stanley, but for some reason Stanley all but disowns the tune. I’m unashamed in my continuing affection for some of KISS’s work, and “Anything For My Baby” would be a candidate for my all-time KISS Top 10.

THE MONKEES: For Pete’s Sake

From The Monkees’ 1967 album Headquarters, their third LP but the first where they were allowed to be the musicians in the studio. The song was co-written by Peter Tork and Joseph Richards, it was used as the closing theme during the second season of the group’s TV series, and it shoulda been a single. At this year’s GRAMMY telecast, a snippet of “For Pete’s Sake” played when Tork’s face appeared during the memorial segment honoring artists we lost during the previous year. We were born to love another, this is something we all need. Frankly, I’d expected the awards show to use a more familiar Monkees hit, either “I’m A Believer” or “Daydream Believer,” and I’m delighted that the producers made the right choice instead.

THE SOFT BOYS: I Wanna Destroy You

If I had heard The Soft Boys’ 1980 album Underwater Moonlight some time contemporary to its release, it would have been one of my favorite albums of that decade. Instead, I didn’t hear it until its CD reissue on the Matador label in 2001. I did hear the group’s classic Underwater Moonlight track “I Wanna Destroy You” somewhere in between, probably from Dana (who played it again on this week’s show). But my introduction to the song itself predates that spin, and is about as weird as it gets. In the ’90s, former teen pop star Debbie Gibson was said to be involved with the producer of Circle Jerks, the hardcore group perhaps best known for “Golden Shower Of Hits,” their thrashing covers medley of cheeseball blechh like “You’re Having My Baby.” Realizing a match made in Perdition, Gibson sang backup on Circle Jerks’ cover of “I Wanna Destroy You,” and even joined them on stage to perform the song at CBGB’s in 1995. Well, that all sounds ducky so far, right? I’m not sure if it was a one-off where she jumped on stage to join those Jerks in concert, or if it was staged as an MTV event, or what. But I learned about it in a report on MTV News, and I submit that no one else had a weirder introduction to this song than I had.

TIN TIN: Toast And Marmalade For Tea

A throwaway line in my Sunday hype for this week’s TIRnRR inspired a need to include this on the show. Some time back, when Dana and I were attending an acoustic show by The Flashcubes‘ Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin, Gary and Arty performed a cover of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea,” then defied us to name the original artist. In yet another stunning display of the boundless mastery of pop information that drives This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, we…yeah, we didn’t have a freakin’ clue. Heads will roll, my friends, heads will roll. Oops–eyes will roll. Sorry, I read that wrong. Man, it’s good thing Dana and I have tenure.

The palpable Bee Gees vibe of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea” is partially attributable to the fact that the record was produced by Maurice Gibb, who also plays bass on the track. But I’ve retroactively decided that it wasn’t Tin Tin at all; it was Debbie Gibson, using a time machine to go back and make a record before she was even born, disguising her voice so she sounds like two guys from Australia. Of course.

Toast and marmalade for tea…FROM THE FUTURE!

STEVIE WONDER: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)


This song comes from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album Talking Book. My point of entry for this wonderful number comes via the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity. The song is used so effectively in the movie’s climactic scene, and it’s been lodged in my consciousness ever since. My entry for this song in The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) likewise serves as the book’s climactic chapter. I hope you get to read it someday.

By Carl Cafarelli

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Comic Book Retroview: The 1966 Batman Signet Paperback

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: The 1966 BATMAN Signet Paperback

by Carl Cafarelli

I don’t think I’ll ever know this for sure, but it’s possible that my first Batman and Robin comic book wasn’t really a comic book at all. I mean, it could have been. It could have been Batman # 184, which I selected out of other four-color choices perched in the comic book display at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation in the summer of 1966. Or it could have been a mini-comic given away as a promo item from Kellogg’s Pop Tarts. Stretching our parameters a bit, it could have been a Batman coloring book. But no–I think my first Batman comic book was really a paperback book: a little 1966 package from Signet Books, promising “The BEST of the original BATMAN–the Caped Crusader’s greatest adventures.” I was six. And a new world was waiting for me.

’66 Batmania had a deep and lasting effect on me. Although my older brother Art had to pry me away from my beloved Wednesday night TV appointment with Lost In Space because he wanted to watch Batman instead, I came to prefer our Dynamic Duo in very short order. Presaging my future life as a pop obsessive, I immediately had to immerse myself in all things Batman. Toys! Coloring books! More toys! Although I had already read (or had read to me) some Superman comic books, the Batman TV show was the true Ground Zero for my lifelong fascination with superheroes.

In retrospect, given the January ’66 debut of Batman, it seems odd I didn’t get to comic books faster. Did I really wait until summer to start amassing these twelve-cent wonders? That simply can’t be true, but I have no memory of reading a Batman comic book prior to Batman # 184 in Missouri, months later. Damn the Swiss cheese of my memories from when I was…all right, only six years old. I guess I can take a mulligan there. Regardless of whether the Signet Batman book was my very first or merely one of my first exposures to Batman in comics form, its significance in my burgeoning hero worship is beyond question. This book mattered to me. A lot.

I’m trying to remember where I got the book, beyond the obvious answer that my parents bought it for me. I have a vague recollection (real or imagined) of plucking it from a spinner rack, and I want to say it was at either J.M. Fields (a department store chain that had its own dedicated Batman merchandise section at the time) or at Switz’s variety store. Neither of those retail outlets carried comic books, damn them. But one of them peddled this, the gateway drug to my lifetime addiction to comics.

The first story in the book has been called the most-reprinted two-page sequence in the history of comic books: “The Legend Of The Batman–Who He Is And How He Came To Be!” It was my first glimpse of Batman’s back story, of how the young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder, and the grief-stricken boy’s solemn vow: “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” After years of training his mind and body, the now-adult Bruce prepares to begin his war on crime, brooding and telling himself, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible….”

And the appearance of a bat flying in Bruce’s window provides his inspiration. “A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen…I shall become a BAT!”

It was a far cry from the BIFF! and BAM! of the TV show. On the tube, actor Adam West‘s lines as Bruce Wayne made occasional reference to the murder of his parents; the comics page brought that horror to life, vividly, perhaps even more starkly in this paperback’s black-and-white reproduction.

(The Signet book reprinted Batman’s origin in its most familiar form, as seen in Batman # 1 from Spring 1940, albeit edited into a six-page sequence to adjust for the different page size of a paperback. This two-page origin was first seen, with a different splash image, as the introduction to “The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible Of Doom” in Detective Comics # 33 [November 1939]. Although “The Dirigible Of Doom” was written by Gardner Fox, comics historians believe the origin sequence was written by Batman’s then-uncredited co-creator Bill Finger. The art was by Bob Kane, the guy who took the byline and sole credit for Batman’s creation, ensuring that history would come to regard Kane as a schmuck.)

The rest of the book’s reprints were from the early ’50s, and if they sacrificed some of the pulp noir feel of Batman’s origin, they made up for that loss with sheer zest and commitment. “The Web Of Doom!” (from Batman # 90, March 1955, credits believed to be Finger with artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris) doesn’t even skimp on the pulp tension, with its riveting tale of amnesia, danger, and time running out. “Fan-Mail Of Danger!” (Batman # 92, May-June 1955, same presumed credits) mixes humor with suspense to winning effect, presaging our current cult of pop idolatry and obsession. 

“The Crazy Crime Clown!” (Batman # 74, December 1952) is next. Written by Alvin Schwartz, penciled by Dick Sprang with Charles Paris inks, this tour-de-force of Batman and Robin versus The Joker offers the book’s only use of any of Batman’s most famous foes, and it’s fantastic. The art’s phenomenal, of course–I regard Sprang as one of the definitive Batman artists, perhaps even more so than later masters like Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers–and the images jump off the page, even in a black-and-white pocket book. And the story remains one of my top Joker appearances, its natural sense of humor balanced with adventure and intrigue. Reading it when I was six, there were times I laughed out loud, while still being thrilled by the storyline. (I do recall being confused by an image of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson standing in a foggy night scene; rather than fog, it appeared to my young eyes as if our intrepid heroes had burrowed their way up from the depths of the Batcave–like Quisp‘s subterranean rival Quake would have done in commercials for Quisp and Quake cereals–and were surrounded by displaced dirt, not fog. Man, I was an odd kid.)

“The Crime Predictor!” (Batman # 77, May-June 1953), “The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!” (Batman # 82, March 1954), and “The Testing Of Batman!” (Batman # 83, April 1954) completed the paperback’s  collection of Bat-treasures. I loved each and every one of them, then and now. Having already been introduced to Batman and Robin via the TV series, I found the Signet paperback to be my best possible introduction to my hero’s comic book adventures.

This was the first of three Batman comics collections published by Signet in 1966, though I didn’t get (nor even see) copies of Batman Vs. The Joker or Batman Vs. The Penguin until many years later. I also didn’t see either of Signet’s two Batman novels, Batman Vs. Three Villains Of Doom and Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome(the latter a novelization of the 1966 Batman feature film) until well, well after the fact. I have them all now, secured in varying condition from dealers in the ’70s and ’80s. My copy of Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome was autographed by Adam West at a car show in Buffalo in 1987.

And I still have that original, worn, tattered, dog-eared, loved-to-death copy of a paperback collection called Batman, plucked from a spinner rack when I was six years old. It’s falling apart, and its inside front cover was customized in ’66 by that very same six-year-old, a kid who would (sort of) grow up wishing to create fictional adventures of his own. 

Hadda start somewhere. Before trading my twelve cents for a copy of Batman # 184 in Missouri, before Detective Comics or The Brave And The Bold or Justice League Of America or World’s Finest Comics, before Denny O’Neil or Steve EnglehartIrv Novick or Jim Aparo, or any other stellar iteration of The Batman in comic form–before any of that–I started here.