Radio: Buddy fails to rock through the ages

The Week on Radio
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The Independent Culture
MARK LAWSON wrote a novel, Idlewild, in which Kennedy never got assassinated and Marilyn Monroe didn't kill herself: as far as I can remember, she ended up old and fat and forgotten, and he ended up universally loathed and despised for his warmongering and his insatiable personal appetites.

You wouldn't want to stretch the comparison too far, but in some ways Buddy Holly's history has mirrored JFK's: premature death (in an air-crash), subsequent canonisation and even a conspiracy theory - apparently, some reports noted bullet-holes in the pilot's seat, suggesting he was shot by one of his passengers.

And on Saturday night, Radio 2 awarded him his own version of Idlewild, though subtly disguised as an hour-long feature about Buddy Holly's only British tour, in March 1958, and misleadingly titled "Buddy in Britain".

In fact, no overt reference was made to what might have happened if Holly had lived beyond the age of 22; what we did get, though, was a cast of dull, middle-aged men (and the odd woman) indulging in tediously trivial reminiscences about the Buddy Holly they knew.

Not that this was their fault: one thing that became clear was that while Holly was a very nice guy - he spent most of his time writing home to the folks in Lubbock, Texas, and was hardly every encountered without a broad smile on his face - he wasn't one of rock's wild men, and travelling around provincial English theatres during a cold month in the Fifties he may not have been full of the joys.

There were flashes of humour here, not all of it intentional - Buddy wrote home: "Everybody comments on how my jokes get bigger laughs than the comedian on the show, Des O'Connor".

O'Connor himself contributed an impression of a Texas accent that came from the same vowel-pool as Dick Van Dyke's cockney in Mary Poppins. There was, too, a good deal of enthusiasm for the music, unfortunately not borne out by the poor quality of the live recordings dug up for the occasion.

But for the most part, what the programme conjured up was a dull, oppressive atmosphere of period, and a sense of how youth and rock'n'roll decay into middle-age and complacency.

The whole thing was summed up by Joe Brown's remark that "Fate decreed that he would not return, but he never forgot that month in 1958" - which, given that he died in February 1959, sounds like very faint praise. If could get a clearer idea of the point of Holly from this week's edition of Shake, Rattle and Roll (Radio 2, Monday), Mark Lamarr's showcase for vintage rock'n'roll records, which contained an ear-blasting selection of cover versions, as well as an excellent record by the Big Bopper, who died in the same crash.

The other thing you realised, listening to his excitably pedantic recitation of record credits, was that if things had gone differently for Lamarr he would now be standing on the end of a platform clutching his thermos and his notebook. If considering alternative realities has one virtue, it's that it makes you realise just how well off we all are.