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Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly Hardcover – September 18, 1996

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Though only 22 years old when he died, Buddy Holly has become a legend in rock-and-roll history. In Rave On, writer Philip Norman proposes that Holly was even more influential in the genre's development than previously credited. Though popular in the United States, his subtle style and earnest charm were overshadowed by the more flamboyant Elvis Presley. Holly's aura of mystery was much more suited to England, which was still recovering from post-war depression, and his reception there was unprecedented. His music played a major role in igniting English youth, and his low-key approach to energized rhythms and rebellion influenced many groups--including the Beatles--to play rock-and-roll.

From Publishers Weekly

In the annals of rock and roll, singer and songwriter Buddy Holly remains an elusive legend. He died in a plane crash in 1959, at the age of 22, becoming one of the first rock stars to perish in a tragic, now romanticized, end. Though Holly inspired a Hollywood biopic in the late 1970s, in the prologue to this biography British writer Norman (Shout!) laments the general lack of knowledge about this influential Texas-born musician. Norman's attempt at setting the Holly story straight is a well-researched volume in which Holly comes across as a talented, fun-loving guy who carried the torch for a high-school sweetheart with strong religious convictions; who blindly signed over much of his future income to Norman Perry, his smarmy producer and manager; and who endured grueling concert tours of the U.S. and Britain. The text doubles as a solid history of the early days of rock, and it particularly sparkles when Norman recounts, from personal experience, the British perspective on American music of the 1950s. Despite the author's skill, however, Holly appears to have been too wholesome a character, with too attenuated a life, to keep the text consistently absorbing. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 18, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684800829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684800820
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #547,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Bill Slocum VINE VOICE on June 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I needed to read this book because all I knew about Buddy Holly, other than a dozen or so evergreen songs, was that movie, "The Buddy Holly Story," which is hardly accurate. Philip Norman gives you a much better sense of what Buddy's brief moment in the spotlight was all about.

It was brief, just over a year and a half from the time he and his band, the Crickets, hit the U.S. charts with "That'll Be The Day" in the summer of 1957 to the fateful flight from Mason City, Iowa on February 3, 1959. It's hard to imagine making as much of the time as Buddy Holly did of his, starting a career, a business partnership, and a family, not to mention writing music that revolutionized rock n' roll.

Norman gives you a good sense of how Holly did this, in a book that is a clear work of love, not ignoring negative elements of the story but striving to put them in less lurid context. One weakness of the book is that this sometimes gets in the way (Holly's alleged gambling problems, dwelt on in other books, is only mentioned once in passing, while a tale backup Cricket guitarist Niki Sullivan offers up about Holly getting a girl pregnant is thrown up only to be knocked down in backhanded fashion.) But the overwhelming sense one gets from reading "Rave On" is Norman's contention that Buddy had everything going for him except luck.

I liked especially the English context of this book. Norman, a British author, pays close attention to Holly and the Crickets' impact on the British music scene, where he was a bigger sensation than his native land. Occasionally, as when the Crickets visit the U.K.
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Format: Hardcover
Norman's biography strips away many of the hitherto half-truths and speculations about the young rock and roll pioneer, whose death in a plane crash is an occurrence that most everyone in the Western world knows about, since it has mythologized Holly as rock and roll's first martyr.
What not many people know is the difficult and at times troubled existence that Holly led during his brief two years in the spotlight. Norman's book is best when he details the insidious influence of Holly's eccentric producer and "manager," Norman Petty, who orchestrated a devious plan to not only deprive Holly of ever collecting his due monies, but to pit Holly's two bandmates against him during the ugly legal wrangling, eventually tying Holly's hands and leaving him no choice but to tackle a grueling winter tour to raise cash for himself and his expectant wife.
While Norman's writing is sometimes weighed down with starstruck adulation, no other Holly biographer has written such a gripping and chilling account of Holly's final days. Many questions about the plane crash remain unanswered, as they probably will always be, but Norman's practical approach to the facts puts things into perspective without embracing some of the more outlandish hypotheses that have surfaced in recent years (such as Holly shooting the pilot in mid-flight). Norman acknowledges but does not pursue such tabloidish details, and though he comes across as a staunch Holly admirer, he presents his subject honestly.
This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants the most truthful chronicle of Buddy Holly's ill-fated but enormously influential life.
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Format: Paperback
There's no shortage of books about Buddy Holly. Not knowing where to begin, I dived into Philip Norman's 1996 bio first. Norman is an engaging writer and I had no problem absorbing RAVE ON's 315 pages in the space of two days. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the book for anyone except casual music fans who don't need or expect anything more than the average rockstar hagiography. Because that's all this book is: nothing more, nothing less. In these pages we learn that Buddy Holly was a perfect being who never did anything wrong. If anything bad happened, or if a record didn't meet expectations, it must have been someone else's fault.

Don't get this book expecting to learn much about Lubbock, West Texas, or the region's music scene in the '40s and '50s. In common with most rock writers, Norman has no interest in or knowledge of country music, so the crucial formative years of 1940s-1954 are terribly botched as Norman stumbles through country, bluegrass, and western swing with no compass to guide him, confusing all three and greatly overstating the influence of bluegrass on Holly while understating western swing in the process. Had Norman known anything about the latter, for example, he would have known that western swing groups routinely used drummers, so his statement that Elvis's addition of a drummer to his band in 1955 was "an outrage" to country music fans is ludicrous. The fact that he states in the very next paragraph that Buddy got his drummer from a local western band demonstrates the limits of Norman's historical imagination, a failing that pervades the rest of the book. Facts are given, but context and nuance are often in short supply, or completely distorted. Why did Elvis and rock and roll catch on faster in conservative West Texas than almost anywhere else in America?
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