The River's Badge

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bobby Vee

Robert Veline was born in Fargo, North Dakota. That probably doesn't mean anything to you, but we Dakotans don't have a lot of artists we can brag about.

My musical memories go back a long way, but frankly Bobby Vee was my older sisters' teen heartthrob, not mine. Nevertheless, when I was a young child I was certainly exposed to his music, by way of 45 RPM records spun on what we called then a "record player". I of course didn't know the story of how the day after the music died, when Buddy Holly and his fellow winter dance party members were supposed to perform a show in Moorhead, Minnesota, but tragically perished in a frozen field in Iowa, fifteen-year-old Bobby stepped up to the mic after a call went out for local talent to fill the bill. I didn't know that this last-minute fill-in led to a recording contract with Liberty Records. I didn't know that a guy named Robert Zimmerman played sloppy piano in Vee's band and called himself Elston Gunn. Elston later changed his name to Bob Dylan. In 2013 Dylan announced during one of his sets, “I’ve played with everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna, but the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on stage with is Bobby Vee."

I saw Bobby Vee once in concert. Well, "concert" is kind of a stretch. It was the nineteen seventies, and a local nightclub; a tiny basement bar, really, would book national acts, mostly those who were ten years or so past their charting days. I didn't have kids yet, so I could afford the luxury of catching a show on a Friday night. I saw the Vogues and others I honestly can't remember, but I do remember Bobby Vee. He was playing in a dank cellar, but his personality sparkled. One would swear he was actually having fun, and I think he was. I think he loved performing.

The late fifties/early sixties were a time in music I have trouble relating to. Everything was tightly controlled -- artists were told what songs they'd record and those songs were manufactured somewhere in a secret song factory by writers who knew how to connect the right dots to spew out a hit. The only distinction, to my mind, is that some artists were better than others. If Fabian (I think his name was) had recorded the same songs that Bobby Vee ultimately lent his voice to, teenage girls wouldn't have screamed quite so loud. Talent talks.

Some of Bobby's hits struck me as kind of lame; cheesy. Like:


In Bobby's defense, the background girl singers pretty much ruined the recording.

However, he had some GOOD recordings. Like this one:


And this one:


This: 



As a kid, I recoiled from this song, simply because of its title. I was steeped in Wednesday catechism, so anything referencing the devil was bad; evil. But this is a good song. Listen:


It may sound weird, but Bobby's phrasing is quintessential North Dakotan. It sounds like home. Every place no doubt has its own sound and one only recognizes it if they're from that place. Listening to him sing, I could pick Bobby Vee out as a Dakotan even if I didn't know he was one. Maybe that's the pull. I really like him because he was a home boy.

Bobby was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2011. Alzheimer's is a son of a bitch -- it robs a person of their "self". It robs their families, too. My dad died from Alzheimer's. My dad was a unique soul. And then, just like that, Dad as we knew him was gone.

So, I have a couple of connections to Bobby Vee -- North Dakota and the sad descent of a cruel ruin.

Bobby Vee, nee Robert Veline, passed away on October 24, 2016. He was seventy-three years of age. I agree with Dylan: He was a beautiful person.






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