When I told my American History Professor that I wanted to write my Michaelmas term paper on Buddy Holly, he looked at me funny. Not in a “who is that” kind of way but more in a “sounds pretty specific but ok” way. I wrote my paper on race relations and Buddy Holly’s music – spoiler alert: not a whole lot to write about there – but it was a paper I wrote more for myself than anyone else.
If you have read this blog long enough, you’ll know about my struggles with anxiety. In fact, I seem to be starting all my blog posts like that now. But this one is a little different.
When I was younger, Buddy Holly never meant more than a dorky kid with black rimmed glasses that tried his hand at rock and roll. I didn’t know any of his songs or his impact or his untimely death. I didn’t know he inspired Elvis or The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen or that he broke the foundations to what is now rock and roll. He just wasn’t someone I was bothered about.
At the beginning of my first long-term relationship, my ex loved sharing his favourite music with me. At that time, I was going through a rough patch (which was later generalised anxiety, OCD and depression. I was a delight). Music with strong meanings of love and commitment were uncomfortable for me. I felt at that time that my life could break open at any moment and I couldn’t trust anyone or anything. So listening to Buddy Holly crooning about missing a lover and pining for an unrequited love made me pretty anxious.
As my mental health and my relationship began to deteriorate, I couldn’t sit through a Buddy Holly record without feeling nauseous. Silly, isn’t it? I had associated his music with this feeling of extreme anxiety. I forced myself to sit through his albums on Spotify on the train into college, I tried to play his music at home but each time, I had to switch it off. To me, his music was a reminder of uncertainty and OCD compulsions. The thing was, Buddy Holly’s music is generally quite upbeat, jovial and simple – two guitars, a drum and a bass. It wasn’t particularly deep or meaningful but to me, it meant so much more than the backbone of rock and roll.
I went into my third year of university and elected to take a module on 20th Century American History. At the same time, my relationship ended and everything that reminded me of it I tried to discard it to the back of my mind.
The module required me to listen to all kinds of music from the 20s, 30s and 40s. I knew that if we were to be looking at the birth rock and roll in the 1950s, we would have to be looking at Buddy Holly.
I then began to get angry.
I had let something as simple as music interfere with my happiness and sense of self worth. So I decided to change that.
I began to listen to Buddy Holly a lot. I read up on all there was to read, I learned about his roots, his influences and who he eventually influenced. I guess what I was doing was CBT/exposure therapy. It was tough, it reminded me of all the sleepless nights I had about my depression, all the times I had tried to dissect my feelings, all the intrusive thoughts I had pushed through my brain. But, gradually, I began to enjoy his music and those of his contemporaries. I was able to sit in class and listen to Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Bo Diddley and not revisit the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings I used to have.
So when the option came about to write about Holly in my Michaelmas term essay, I took it. I dived into it and at the end, I had proved a point to myself. That your anxiety does not control you, you control the anxiety. That with enough determination, grit and bravery, you can overcome the obstacles your mental health lays out for you. I have many other Buddy Holly type things in my life but this small success gave me the confidence to tackle the bigger issues at hand in my life both then and now.
So, at this, the 60th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s untimely death, I am both sad and grateful. Sad, of course, that he never reached his true potential but grateful that it was his music that taught me a big lesson in my mental health. I still listen to Buddy Holly and The Crickets from time to time, they remind me now of my strength as a human being and how I can, with persistence and determination, overcome anything.