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John Doe: Reliving Buddy Holly's 40-Year-Old Ache

The 1958 song "Peggy Sue Got Married" is so richly   evocative, it took 57-year-old John Doe to get at the core of it.
Courtesy of the artist
The 1958 song "Peggy Sue Got Married" is so richly evocative, it took 57-year-old John Doe to get at the core of it.

In 1958, at age 22, Buddy Holly wrote a song about love lost that was so richly evocative, it took a 57-year-old to get at the core of it. Holly's intentions for "Peggy Sue Got Married" are impossible to know; recorded with just an acoustic guitar and his voice, it's ultimately just a demo. (The posthumously overdubbed single resulted from the assumption that Holly would have wanted nothing more than a full-band sound-alike to serve as a sequel to his earlier smash "Peggy Sue.") Even so, it's still affecting, as Holly deals with rumors and gossip, recognizing that — whether or not he ever learns what really happened to his ex — she's long gone, consigned to his past and he to hers.

That's what Holly has to offer: a twinge of sadness, a sharp but quick sting. John Doe, on the other hand, is hit with a deeper, more enduring ache. Both men are singing about an old girlfriend, very possibly their first, but there's a wide gulf between a loss that took place a year ago and one that happened decades back. With a warm bass burbling underneath, Hendrix-y guitar flutters and a piano un-tethering itself at regular intervals, Doe's version is constantly on the verge of falling apart, and the sound that comes out of his throat is that of a long-smoldering torch being finally, ruefully snuffed.

What's more, the singer doesn't fully realize that he's lost the girl he loved forever until he finally says it out loud, which is the one thing he's been avoiding all these years. But Doe doesn't bring all of that to the song by himself. Almost everything that he digs into was already present in "Peggy Sue Got Married." All Doe does is uncover what Holly packed into it in the first place.

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Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.
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