Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
TODAY'S LETTER IS H
I was too young to ever know the full story. But my older brothers had a neighborhood friend named Nancy Cook; the only two things I can tell you about Nancy would be that she loved pop music--who didn't?--and that she died at a young age, not yet 30 years old, in a car accident in the mid '70s. It's not the sort of thing I want to ask my brothers and sister about, even all these decades later. But I know that she was gone, too early, too young. And I also know that before she died, she left behind a collection of her 45s.
My first conscious exposure to Buddy Holly came via Don McLean. I was one of the many who just adored McLean's smash hit "American Pie" in 1971, while having not Clue One of what it was about. At the height of the song's popularity, an article appeared in, I think, either Life or Look magazine, discussing the song's genesis. And it was there that I first read about the day the music died: February 3rd, 1959, when a plane crash ended the life of this singer named Buddy Holly.
Many years later, I would learn more about Buddy, and about Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, who perished with Holly in that crash. In '71, I just felt the sadness of "American Pie"'s lyrics, lyrics which mourned Holly while recalling I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. Devastating. Even at the age of 11, I recognized that song's poignant mix of sorrow, regret, wistful remembrance, and subtle hope. And I wondered to myself: who was Buddy Holly?
I entered eighth grade in the fall of 1972. In '72 and '73, as my interest in pop music continued unabated, I began to look more and more into supplementing my AM radio lifeline by investigating what interesting records might already be in the family collection. Both of my brothers had moved out on their own, and had presumably taken the bulk of their record collections with them (though Art had left the first two Monkees albums behind). My sister was still in college, and I don't remember what records she'd left in North Syracuse and what she'd hauled off to Adelphi University. But there were still some rock 'n' roll gems at the house: a few Beatles albums, a Dave Clark Five single, The Live Kinks, and probably some Grass Roots, Three Dog Night, Gene Pitney, Rick Nelson, and Who. While rummaging through the collection one day, I discovered two little bound volumes of 45s; these little collections of singles had Nancy's name written on them.
As I examined these buried treasures, I made mental notes of the artists' names, both familiar and unfamiliar. I'd never heard of Ivory Joe Hunter, but I was taken with "You Can't Stop This Rocking And Rolling," the B-side to "Since I Met You Baby." I knew Elvis Presley, of course, though it would still be a few more years before I cared about him, and I'd likely heard The Coasters' great "Charlie Brown" on a TV commercial for some oldies compilation. But the most intriguing discovery was a 45 on the Coral Records label: Buddy Holly. "Peggy Sue" and "Everyday." For the first time, I was finally going to hear a Buddy Holly record.
And I was a Buddy Holly fan, just like that.
Both sides of the single captivated me. The hypnotic, rolling percussion of "Peggy Sue," and Holly's repeated, insistent pleading Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue, combined to convey sheer, urgent desire. On the flip side, "Everyday" eschewed the earthiness of "Peggy Sue"'s primal plea, and opted for a (seemingly) chaste wish for pure love everlasting: Every day seems a little longer, Every day love's a little stronger, Come what may, do you ever long for true love from me? A rendezvous in the bedroom, backed by an earnest ache to be happy together forever and ever? Yeah. Yeah, I'm good with that.
Throughout eighth grade, each day before school, I tried to make time to listen to both sides of that 45 before grabbing the bus. At some subsequent point, while enjoying my sacred Beatles stash, I noticed that a song on my favorite album, Beatles VI, was written by Buddy Holly. "Words Of Love" was a Buddy Holly song? Ahhhhhh! I couldn't have been more hooked on Holly by that point, but I'd reached a temporary plateau nonetheless. I only knew a mere three Buddy Holly songs, and one of 'em was by Fab Four proxy. It would be a few years before I could advance beyond that.
But Holly days would come at last. There were further Holly proxies to discover first--Linda Ronstadt's "That'll Be The Day" and The Rolling Stones' "Not Fade Away"--and an amazing Holly soundalike, "Sheila," by Tommy Roe, before I could truly discover the wealth of the Buddy Holly catalog. The 1978 film The Buddy Holly Story was an integral catalyst, even though I knew it was largely fiction. But I loved that movie anyway, and it prompted me to buy Buddy Holly and The Crickets' 20 Golden Greats best-of. "Oh Boy,""Rave On," and "Well...All Right" immediately became fave raves. I received another Buddy Holly collection, He's The One, from my friend Jay, filling in my Holly collection with additional tracks like "You're The One," "Dearest," and "Love's Made A Fool Of You." In 1984, Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" became my wedding song, so it has a meaning for lovely wife Brenda and me well beyond other pop songs.
I haven't thought of my siblings' late friend Nancy in years. I asked my Mom about her last night, and Mom's face lit up with the memory of Nancy and the rest of my brothers' friends hanging out at our house years ago. Mom remembered how hard it hit everyone when Nancy was killed. Try as I might, I can't remember Nancy at all. I can't mourn her, but the thought of her too-short life nonetheless inspires a wistful...well, not quite melancholy, but yet another reminder of the tenuous nature of our time in this world. Buddy Holly also died too young. In my mind's eye, Buddy is singing to Nancy right now. Love like yours will surely come way. They say Buddy Holly lives; if that's true, then Nancy Cook lives. too.
HOPPY THE MARVEL BUNNY
My 50+ year love affair with comic books is based primarily on my fondness of superheroes. But I've dabbled in other comic-book genres at times. Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories are recognized classics, Sheldon Mayer's Sugar & Spike deserves wider recognition, and I've been known at various points in my life to follow the four-color sagas of Archie, Enemy Ace, Bat Lash, Groo the Wanderer, Ms. Tree, Tomb Of Dracula, Love And Rockets, Fish Police, and Fission Chicken.
Although it was never a specific interest, I've occasionally had some affection for funny-animal superheroes, too. My first such passions were Mighty Mouse and Underdog on TV, followed by Henry Boltinoff's single-page (or less) Super Turtle fill-in strips in various DC comic books in the '60s. And I also dug Super Goof, a Gold Key Comics title, which starred the familiar Disney character Goofy; whenever our dear Goofy gobbled down one of his secret supply of Super Goobers, he'd upgrade into the costumed, super-powered Whatever-The-Hell-Goofy-Was Of Steel, Super Goof. Sure, you can laugh, but it was the closest Disney comics ever came to an ongoing superhero book. Er, unless you count Zorro....
But neither Underdog nor Super Goof was the first anthropomorphic critter to don a cape and fly through the sky to punch evil in the eye. One of the first--if not the first--was Captain Marvel Bunny, better-known as Hoppy The Marvel Bunny.
In the 1940s, the original Captain Marvel was so popular that Cap's real-life masters at Fawcett Comics figured that spin-off characters would be well warranted. Cap gained a younger counterpart, Captain Marvel Junior, and a sister, Mary Marvel; each of these characters was popular enough to star in separate cover-featured series (in Master Comics and Wow Comics, respectively), and to appear in his/her own solo comics, as well. The three teamed up (often with non-powered, non-starring supporting character Uncle Marvel) in the pages of The Marvel Family, too. Someone at Fawcett must have decided that a funny animal version could sell to even younger readers, so Hoppy the Marvel Bunny was born.
Hoppy's first appearance was in Funny Animals (aka Fawcett's Funny Animals) # 1 in 1942. His debut revealed that the soon-to-be-magic bunny rabbit was a big fan of Captain Marvel--wasn't everyone?--who discovered he could also become the World's Mightiest Lagamorph by speaking Cap's magic word, SHAZAM! In a flash of lightning, Hoppy became Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and adventure was afoot. (A rabbit's foot! See what I did there?)
Hoppy remained the star of Funny Animals for years, and also starred in 15 issues of his own comic book. In the early '50s, the Captain Marvel connection was dropped, as Hoppy became a more traditional funny-animal feature. When Fawcett folded in the mid '50s, Charlton Comics picked up the rights to Hoppy, and reprinted some of the Marvel Bunny tales under the name Magic Bunny.
Hoppy was never much on my radar; he was gone from the comics racks long before I was born, and never had sufficient pop-culture oomph to merit a nostalgic revival. I probably first heard of Hoppy while studying comics history in the books All In Color For A Dime and Steranko's History Of The Comics, tomes that I devoured in the early to mid '70s. Even when DC Comics acquired Captain Marvel and company, Hoppy was certainly the lowest of priorities.
Well, at least until DC Comics Presents # 34 in 1981. For the second and concluding chapter of a team-up between Superman and The Marvel Family, writer Roy Thomas pulled Hoppy the Marvel Bunny out of his hat as a climactic surprise guest star. This was clever, unexpected, and so cool. Hoppy saved the day, and even told Superman that he was his favorite comic book hero.
Heh. I thought Hoppy was supposed to be a Captain Marvel fan! Traitor. Just can't trust a rascally rabbit.
Quick Takes For H:
HELLCAT: I was reading The Avengers regularly in 1975-76, when writer Steve Englehart brought the character of Patsy Walker into the mix. I don't think I'd read any issues of Marvel's Patsy Walker teen humor comic book in the '60s, nor had I seen Patsy's more serious appearances as a supporting character in The Beast (starring in Amazing Adventures). I had seen Marvel's short-lived Claws Of The Cat book, so I recognized the costume Walker donned in The Avengers # 144, which was Patsy Walker's first appearance as Hellcat. Decades later, I was several episodes into Marvel's Jessica Jones TV series on Netflix before I realized that the character "Trish Walker" was Patsy Walker, albeit without the Hellcat identity.
THE HOLLIES: "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" was yet another of my many favorite songs on the radio in the early '70s. I didn't remember any of The Hollies' '60s hits from when I was younger, but I sure loved this song. My interest in The Hollies expanded as I began to explore more oldies radio, and I picked up a copy of The Very Best Of The Hollies outta the cut-out bin at Gerber Music in Penn Can Mall. Granted, it didn't include "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," but it did have "Bus Stop,""Look Through Any Window,""Stop, Stop, Stop,""I Can't Let Go," and "On A Carousel," among others, so I was in Heaven. I also picked up the soundtrack to the David Essex movie Stardust out of the dingy basement at Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights, and that contained The Hollies' "Carrie Anne." And, after all these years, I still don't care about The Hollies' 1974 hit "The Air That I Breathe."
HOLLY & THE ITALIANS: In 1981, Creem magazine described Holly & the Italians' debut album The Right To Be Italian as something like Lesley Gore or The Angels backed by Leave Home-era Ramones. Well, I was sold! I first heard Holly & the Italians on a CBS Records various-artists collection called Exposed II, which included "Rock Against Romance" and the group's signature tune, "Tell That Girl To Shut Up." A Holly & the Italians flexi-disc was also included with one of my subscription copies of Trouser Press magazine, and I bought a copy of The Right To Be Italian (with a water-damaged cover) from a record store in New York. The Right To Be Italian remains one of my all-time Top 25 albums.
HOT WHEELS: I was a big fan of Mattel's Hot Wheels cars--my first Hot Wheels car was Splittin Image--and I liked the 1969 cartoon TV series on ABC. DC Comics licensed the rights to adapt the TV series, and these were some really well-done comics, with stunning artwork from Alex Toth and (in its final issue) Neal Adams. DC's Hot Wheels comic ran for only six issues, and the daunting prospect of trying to navigate the Sargasso Sea of licensing complications will likely prevent it from ever being reprinted.
WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: I is for