Weezer and Spike Jonze’s Buddy Holly: “Americana” video

For our final delivery of Spike Jonze´s trilogy, we decided to discuss another one of his masterpieces. We are going to discuss the video for Weezer´s “Buddy Holly”.

The video shows the band performing at the original Arnold’s Drive-In diner from the popular ’70s T.V. show “Happy Days”. The video was very popular and had a heavy rotation on MTV. It won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1995. We love this video and thought it would be a perfect last entry to recognize Jonze´s genius. Also, look closely at 3:14 and you will see a young and endearing PAT MORITA… yes, we are talking about the one and only Mr. Miyagi… a guaranteed recipe for success.

Americana refers to artifacts, or a collection of artifacts (paintings, prints and drawings; license plates or entire vehicles, household objects, tools and weapons; flags, plaques and statues, and so on), related to the history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage of the United States. The things involved need not be old, but need to have the appropriate associations. Weezer´s “Buddy Holly” is the video that most embodies this nostalgia…the true “Americana” video.

There is a romantic idealization of the desire to go back to the past, to the “good old days”, a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends. Nostalgia is a “socially acceptable” form of sadness. Sehnsucht is a German word that can be translated as “longing”, “yearning”, or “craving”, Saudade is a Portuguese word with no literal English translation that describes a deep emotional nostalgic state for an absent something or someone that one loves. As we were writing this, we wonder, is there a word in English to define a melancholic feeling, a longing for an era that one did not live in?

“Happy Days” was one of those shows that will forever live in the memory of its fans, and one of the few that will be transmitted (not by genes, but via reruns) generation after generation. The sitcom aired first-run from January 15, 1974, to September 24, 1984, on ABC. It was by Garry Marshall (Actor, writer and director of movies like “Pretty Woman”, “Beaches” and “Runaway Bride”), The show presents an idealized vision of life in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.

From its recognizable opening theme song…

…to lovable characters the public related to, like Howard Cunningham (The father) and Marion Cunningham (the mother – traditional homemaker) and Al Delvecchio (owner/cook of the drive-in and known for sighing “Yeeep, yep, yep, yep, yep” when he was disappointed or when things did not go his way) and Richie Cunningham (breakout role for now famous Actor and Director Ron Howard) to unforgettable, pop culture icon Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli “Fonzie”, his catchphrases “(H)eyyyy!” and “Whoa!” and his embodiment of “coolness”.

Fonzie05

‘Buddy Holly’ was released on September 7th 1994, Holly’s birthday (he would have been 58) and both the title of the song and the physical likeness between Holly and Rivers Cuomo made this single almost a tribute to one of rock n’ roll’s great innovators. Indeed, it’s Cuomo’s resemblance to Holly, actually about the glasses they wear more than anything else, which is mentioned in the song. The lyrics themselves are about an outsider couple getting stick from the “homies dissing my girl”. This draws an indirect inference to Holly who due to his glasses and lack of ‘conventional’ good looks has a certain air of the geek who came good about him. When put alongside contemporaries like Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, Holly exudes a much different air to these flamboyant, good-looking showmen. He didn’t scream and holler, his vocal style being much more restrained than that. His music and the sound of his band were also comparatively restrained.

Go and listen to ‘Peggy Sue’ next to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ or ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ for example. The latter records are coming at you, jumping out of the speakers demanding your attention, whereas on Holly’s signature hit the sound is more intimate, conversational almost. Holly isn’t screaming his love at Peggy Sue, he is telling her, shyly. In fact he isn’t telling her directly at all, but would seem to be sat in his bedroom practicing aloud to himself what he would like to tell her if only he had the courage to say such things. In the first verse he tells us he feels blue, and then spends the rest of the song saying how much he loves her. Why does he feel so blue if he’s in love? It’s because Peggy Sue doesn’t know and maybe doesn’t care to know either. His love is doomed to be unrequited. Chuck Berry would never have written a song so obviously of the outsider. Holly is the geek’s rock n’ roller, and as such when Cuomo drew on his likeness for his own outsider’s anthem it was a perfect fit.

rivers-cuomo

By drawing on the cultural strands inherent in both Happy Days and the image and music of Buddy Holly, Jonze and Weezer managed to create a piece of video art that is firmly rooted in modern American history and yet is juxtaposed by the music itself which was, and still is utterly contemporary. We have a 90’s sounding song married to a video which recreates a show which was a 70’s take on 50’s life in America, with the connection to that period accentuated by the association with a man who is indelibly linked with the rock n’ roll he helped to create and which Weezer as a band are direct descendants of. The synthesis of these elements is no less than a perfect summary of the role of pop culture in American life over a 40 year period.

Happy Days

It is a piece of Americana which endures because the picture and its various elements work together to create are as relevant now as they were in the 90’s, 70’s or 50’s. It’s not only relevant within America but globally. To non-Americans (like us) things like Buddy Holly, rock n’ roll, Happy Days, Fonzie, and the whole notion of geeks coming good (that’s the American dream – anyone can be a success) represent vividly a popular culture which has had a more profound effect on the world as a whole than any other in the last 100 years. All of that is here and perfectly encapsulated in a hugely enjoyable 4 minute pop video. The Fonz would give this a thumbs up and an “eyyyyyy” for sure, and we here at MVD are doing just the same…

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3 thoughts on “Weezer and Spike Jonze’s Buddy Holly: “Americana” video

  1. This video did what it was supposed to do, it projected the images sent to the world of what America was like for “some” Americans in the 1950’s. While the lyrics of the song speak to “Homies dissing my girl” and other slang terms of the 90’s the urban element responsible for much of that colloquial language & (Rock & Roll itself) was missing from “The Good Old Days” video… This era had a split personality. You are correct that even the show was “idealized” or a sanitized version of what America really was back then and I guess that is what nostalgia through music can do and is in fact was this video does. It focuses our attention on the good, the fun, the care free nature of the moment. It makes us forget politics and the troublesome news of the day. It captures its audience and through its innocence, makes us believe that the world the songwriters paint through lyrics actually does (did) exist.

    1. Oh absolutely, the whole thing is a romantic fabrication, a rose-tinted view of an America that in truth only ever partially existed. The nostalgic elements of the video, and more so Happy Days itself, are an impressionistic fabrication that doesn’t draw directly on the 50’s as much as it does on people’s memories and second-hand apprehensions of the era. But it’s through such memories and romanticisations that so much of culture is constructed, and certainly ‘Americana’ is a trope that draws heavily on slightly misty-eyed constructions of American history and life and in doing so helps provide the USA with a memory of itself that it feels comfortable with, and which ignores it’s many failings and shortcomings.

      1. Those in the USA that feel “comfortable” with those memories are an isolated & dying breed and thankfully do not represent the majority (Even if they are the loudest)…Great Post!!!! Keep them coming!

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