Death does amazing things for a performer’s reputation. Had Gary Busey gone by the wayside after his swaggering confident performance as bespectacled 50’s hiccupping proto-nerd and Elvis Costello impersonator Buddy Holly, and before all the drugs, motorcycles, and religious awakenings, who knows how impressive his legend might have become. Sure, Jennifer Lopez was the bomb in Selena, but this is the all time greatest portrayal of a dead Rock star.
The Buddy Holly Story plays a little hard and fast with the truth, but it makes for a great myth, and most importantly gets the music absolutely right. Although Busey would have dwarfed the real Holly in size, the actors all play their own instruments and the vocal similarity between the two
Buddy Holly was the geek’s rock star. He wore big black horned rim glasses, had a silly perm, and a goofy smile. He also had the audacity to threaten the subject of his first hit That’ll Be the day that “If we ever part I’ll leave you.” Holly died in a tragic plane crash at the age of twenty two, but had by that time amassed a huge catalog of classic songs with styles ranging from pure the Rockabilly of Rave On, to the Bo Diddly beat of Not Fade Away, to the lump in the throat romance of
. The Beatles took their name from a variant of Holly’s Crickets and super fan Paul McCartney owns every piece of music he ever recorded.
Rash’s film has great fun with the mistaken perception that Holly and the Cricket’s were black especially in the retelling of his breaking the color barrier at the previous all Black Apollo in
Aside from Holly’s career, the film chronicles the singer’s whirlwind romance with Maria Elena Santiago, to whom he is said to have proposed to on their first date. Busey pulls off an awkward grace and humor in a wonderful scene where the singer asks Maria’s Aunt for courting permission as his alter ego Charles Hardin.
Accurate portrayals of 50’s Rockers as diverse as Sam Cooke and Eddie Cochran make the picture a joyous experience for true connoisseurs of the era. Until they get that epic version of The Big Bopper’s life and career off the table, this is still the best Rock and Roll biography ever filmed.