“when the last rays of daylight go down,
Buddy, you’ll roll no more…”
Bob Dylan / Standing in the Doorway
Bob Dylan has long been haunted by the ghost of Buddy Holly. As a young man in Duluth, Dylan was affected by Holly’s death in such a way that it branded him with his first jarring sense of mortality. “I was burned with death all around me,” Dylan said in 1965 of those early years in Duluth after Holly’s plane crash.
During the recording of Time Out of Mind, Dylan seems to have been haunted once again by Holly’s spirit. Or even, as he tells it, his presence, as if it were more than coincidence that Dylan was thinking of Holly while making the album.
“While we were recording, every place I turned there was Buddy Holly. You know what I mean? It was one of those things. Every place you turned. You walked down a hallway and you heard Buddy Holly records like “That'll Be the Day.” Then you'd get in the car to go over to the studio and “Rave On” would be playing. Then you'd walk into this studio and someone's playing a cassette of “It's So Easy.” And this would happen day after day after day. Phrases of Buddy Holly songs would just come out of nowhere. It was spooky. (laughs) But after we recorded and left, you know, it stayed in our minds. Well, Buddy Holly's spirit must have been someplace, hastening this record."
The lyrics to the song “Standing in the Doorway” contain
the following lines, which, as far as I know, haven’t been connected to Buddy Holly so far by any Dylan biographers
or in critical analysis. To me, the connection seems incontrovertible.
When the last rays of daylight go down
Buddy, you'll roll no more
I can hear the church bells ringing in the yard
I wonder who they're ringing for
The words Buddy and roll both sound casually tossed in, but are in fact carefully, poetically placed within the lyric. Buddy Holly was rock and roll in 1959. The plane crashed in the middle of the night. The next lines reference the famous John Donne line, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Donne is saying that every person’s death affects everyone else – it is as if in each person’s death, we are reminded of the tight human bonds we all have to each other and reminded of own mortality. Time Out of Mind is a record full of illusions to death or the nearness of it.
Dylan talked about Buddy Holly in his Grammy acceptance speech for Time Out of Mind winning Album of the Year.
"I just wanted to say, one time when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at the Duluth National Guard Armory (late January, 1959)...I was three feet away from him...and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was – I don't know how or why – but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record, in some kind of way."
Don McLean famously cited Holly’s death, in his song “American Pie,” as a marker for “the day the music died.” Certainly, a spirit of purity and innocence that Holly exemplified was lost – but as always in life and in rock and roll, the spirit of what once was keeps being passed along… and so it rolls, and will always roll.