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Falling Comet
May 25, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

"In 1955 "Rock Around the Clock" went to the top of the charts and turned Bill Haley into the king of rock and roll. Twenty-five years later, he was holed up in a pool house in Harlingen, TX, drunk, lonely, paranoid, and dying. After three decades of silence, his widow and his children tell the story of his years in Texas and his sad final days." (Via)
posted by zarq (34 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Additional Links:

Single page version of the article.

YouTube Playlist for Bill Haley (Contains links to 40 songs and a timeline)

Mr. Haley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great article, thanks. The twist is that in the 1970s his spirit would be resurrected in "American Graffiti" and the boom of 1950s-early 1960s revivalism that happened after it ("Happy Days," "Grease," "The Outsiders," etc., etc., etc.) when the boomers first started getting nostalgic about their lost childhoods. ("Rock Around the Clock" is the 1st track on the "American Graffiti" soundtrack.) But as the article points out Haley was able to ride that wave for a little while and then it was back to playing one-nighters in crappy motels." I picture an as-yet unmade movie about this, sort of like Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus" without the kink and the murder.

There's no denying Haley's influence and sweep, even though he's gone back into a trough where it's not cool to be into him (or any of the other 1950s greats for that matter).
posted by blucevalo at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great great article. I'm glad his wife finally decided to start talking about his last years.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2011


There was no moonshine on the Rio Grand
as a truck of migrants pulled through town.
And the jukebox was busted in the bus depot
when Haley's Comet hit the ground.

posted by eriko at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, what a great article and fascinating read. Thanks so much for posting!
posted by hippybear at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's some of the songs mentioned in the article:

Jealous Heart
Rocket 88
Crazy Man Crazy
Rock this Joint
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:25 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sambo's. Speaking of nostalgic.

:-)
posted by humboldt32 at 8:51 AM on May 25, 2011


bluecevalo and hippybear, you're welcome! :)
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on May 25, 2011


Semi-Related: Big Freedia, of New Orleans Bounce fame, sample's heavily from the song in Rock Around Tha Clock
posted by wcfields at 9:17 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Harlingen really aren't interested in Bill Haley. Great pity.
posted by Leon at 9:25 AM on May 25, 2011


"Before it became a hit in summer 1955—more than a year after it was recorded—rock 'n' roll was virtually an underground movement, something kids listened to on the sly," wrote journalist Alex Frazer-Harrison. "This changed after 'Rock Around the Clock.' The music was everywhere."

I know little about rock music, and listen to even less of it, but this makes me think of Nirvana. Alternative rock had been around for ages, mostly flying under the radar—but then one little band from Seattle had a hit and became a phenomenon, and suddenly "alternative" was everywhere, and the world of popular music was never quite the same.

Something like that?
posted by ixohoxi at 9:29 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. Interesting article.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:03 AM on May 25, 2011


I saw him play in 1968 with many of the members of his original band. They were incredible. They played like it was their first gig and tore the place apart. Bill Haley himself shone like the sun -- a round, glowing benevolent presence. Fresh, lively and positive. They had a narrow field of play, but they played it for all it was worth, and I'd trade the hokiest novelty song in the Haley catalogue for the entire career output of 90 percent of the bands current in 1968. What a man. Most people shouldn't drink at all, really.
posted by Faze at 10:14 AM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Something like that?

Yeah, only also nothing like that.

Because before rock 'n' roll came around, people were either listening to jazz, or to popular music (what we'd now call "easy listening").

Imagine a world in which the biggest radio hits of one year were replaced by the biggest radio hits of the next year.

THAT is how gigantic the explosion of rock 'n' roll was upon the face of the planet. It obviously didn't happen overnight, but by the year following that, every song was rock, and easy listening was basically gone from everything but your parents' stereo.

Only a few years after that, and jazz would start to decline sharply.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Sad - I got a little choked up. It reminds me of that guy who was involved in rescuing that well-baby (Baby Jessica?) who ended up feeling let down after the glory and height of being a star and never had that fame again, and no recognition from society as a hero, and I think he ended up killing himself.
posted by symbioid at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2011


It's a shame, because studies show that rock and roll is in fact dying, and that soon we could all be listening to jazz.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2011


They had a narrow field of play, but they played it for all it was worth.

Imagine how pathetic would have been like if the Beatles had kept the moptop haircuts, collarless jackets, black pointed boots, and yeah-yeah-yeahs into their middle aged years, playing Vegas and oldies tours. Because that's kind of what Haley, Elvis, and so many other rock pioneers did - they shied away from the creative challenges and became mummified versions of themselves as the world kept changing and outgrew whatever cultural relevance they once had.
posted by squalor at 11:19 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because that's kind of what Haley, Elvis, and so many other rock pioneers did - they shied away from the creative challenges and became mummified versions of themselves as the world kept changing and outgrew whatever cultural relevance they once had.

I think that's a bit unfair, as the article points out, Haley tried mixing in country and other influences and styles on a number of occasions and it was never well received. Perhaps he should have persisted or pushed harder, but it seems clear that the public wanted the 1955 version of Haley and that undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on him to give the people what they wanted.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:27 AM on May 25, 2011


Because that's kind of what Haley, Elvis, and so many other rock pioneers did - they shied away from the creative challenges and became mummified versions of themselves as the world kept changing and outgrew whatever cultural relevance they once had.

That's patently untrue.
posted by blucevalo at 11:47 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps he should have persisted or pushed harder, but it seems clear that the public wanted the 1955 version of Haley and that undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on him to give the people what they wanted.

Many ardent Beatles fans were very upset by the way their favorite band changed beginning with the Rubber Soul era. The Beatles assumed the risk of alienating their existing followers in order to pursue their own creative visions, as a group and later as separate artists. It was a far from certain gamble, but one that paid off handsomely. Haley paid the price for not taking that kind of risk.

Elvis' 1968 "comeback" was little more than fresh veneer on what was still the same old Colonel Parker production. The amphetamines trimmed the flesh and chased off the torpor for a little while, but was not a sustainable enterprise.
posted by squalor at 12:03 PM on May 25, 2011


The Beatles assumed the risk of alienating their existing followers in order to pursue their own creative visions, as a group and later as separate artists. It was a far from certain gamble, but one that paid off handsomely.

Haley took risks as well, more than once as the article makes clear, and it did NOT pay off handsomely, so he went back to doing what he had success with (since it was, at least in part, his livelihood). Would the Beatles have continued down the same paths if they had not been successful? Perhaps, but it's speculation at this point either way.

Haley did NOT keep the trappings of earlier success, he returned to them because his other creative visions were not well received. He didn't shy away from creative challenges at all, he simply didn't persist with ideas that failed commercially. The fact that he tried other avenues on multiple occasions however, would indicate to me that he did not shy away at all.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:12 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting story. I'd never knew much about his life and demise, other than Tom Russell's song, Haley's Comet (warning: auto loading audio).
posted by 2N2222 at 12:30 PM on May 25, 2011


squalor: " they shied away from the creative challenges and became mummified versions of themselves as the world kept changing and outgrew whatever cultural relevance they once had"

Or maybe not, maybe they didn't have anything else to say, or, rather, maybe they didn't have any other way to say what they were trying to say. Evolution is a hard thing, not everybody grows all through their lives, it takes brass balls to make the sorts of changes that let's say Picasso made -- he painted beautifully, exquisitely, perfectly amazing pieces of art. But he wasn't happy at it, he wanted -- needed -- to draw pigs heads grafted onto violins or whatever, it was essential for his evolution as an artist. So he did it. The world followed him, but the world just as easy could have shied away.

So maybe Haley never wanted to put a pigs head on his music.

Or maybe he just went through life *way* more publicly than you or I have, and when he walked on into the rest of his life people were paying attention -- how creative are you, whoever it is that's reading this, how far have you evolved, have you put pigs heads onto your computer programs or the life insurance policies you're trying to sell? How's that working out for you?

The burden of his fame was, well, a burden. Then alcoholism came along and stomped him into the muck, trashed him as alcoholism will, sucked him dry while getting his brain wet and soggy, a neat trick.

An interesting story, and a sad one. I'm glad he lived, the sound of his songs get me happy, or at least a bit happy, he's brought happiness into my life same as he has yours. A mixed bag, for sure, left behind two families in his rush through this thing, three really, he did hurt people, but I don't get the sense that he did it with bad intent, just another guy running down the road, trying to find happiness.

Thanx for the post, glad I got to read the article, fleshed him out some.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:40 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Haley did NOT keep the trappings of earlier success, he returned to them because his other creative visions were not well received.

Haley likely did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. He was a performing artist who suffered from what would now be diagnosed as a crippling case of social anxiety, and had nothing with which to self-medicate except alcohol. We all know how that ended.

Perhaps the fact that the Beatles used cannabis and hallucinogens instead of booze is a contributing factor in the difference between these two opposing artistic and professional trajectories.
posted by squalor at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Such a sad story.

Fun Bill Haley fact! The Upper West Side building in which he and the Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock" (and also where Buddy Holly recorded his last songs) is an over-the-top Egyptian-themed building that was built as a meeting place for the Knights of Pythias. As membership in the Pythians declined they leased some of the space to Decca to use as recording studios. The building was sold and eventually converted to apartments. One of those apartments was the childhood home of Lady Gaga.
posted by plastic_animals at 1:25 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Elvis' 1968 "comeback" was little more than fresh veneer on what was still the same old Colonel Parker production. The amphetamines trimmed the flesh and chased off the torpor for a little while, but was not a sustainable enterprise.

A novel interpretation and a fascinatingly vicious one. The albums that were generated by the performance were certainly not "the same old Colonel Parker" production. In fact, Elvis went against Parker's advice in recording the Memphis albums and when they were successful started complaining that he couldn't control Elvis anymore.
posted by blucevalo at 1:55 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was no moonshine on the Rio Grand

Flagged as Gratuitous Obligatory Dave Alvin.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:07 PM on May 25, 2011


My Dad had this album which I thought sucked when I was a kid, but it just grew on me. An ex girl friend sold it for ... stuff and it broke my heart. One of the only material possessions I regret losing.

Dance With a Dolly has to be posted.
posted by Max Power at 2:57 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never thought I'd see the day that someone linked to "Dance with a Dolly" on Metafilter. I love that song. This is my favorite Metafilter post ever (*sniff*). Bless you, all you guys.

Oh yeah, and Imagine how pathetic would have been like if the Beatles had kept the moptop haircuts, collarless jackets, black pointed boots, and yeah-yeah-yeahs into their middle aged years, playing Vegas and oldies tours

No it wouldn't have been pathetic! It would have been the greatest thing that ever happened! We'd have been spared everything that followed Revolver, no Maharishi, no White Album, no Yoko Ono, no "Whatever Gets you Through the Night". John Lennon would never have been murdered. Paul McCartney would be married to some cheerful slut who loved him for himself. You could get on a plane tomorrow, go to Las Vegas and see the Beatles! Who wouldn't like that?
posted by Faze at 3:45 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a shame, because studies show that rock and roll is in fact dying yt , and that soon we could all be listening to jazz.

People have been predicting rock and roll's death since the day it was born.

They had a narrow field of play, but they played it for all it was worth.

There's nothing wrong with rockabilly. Straight up rockabilly is just plain fun to dance to, and though the psychobilly scene is a bit silly it's great for preserving some of that spirit. Bands like Jim Jones Revue, Heavy Trash (Jon Spencer's new band) and Kitty Daisy and Lewis are keeping that spirit alive for a new generation.

I grew up with Happy Days and Cousin Brucie's oldies radio. I like The Beatles and the psychedelic stuff and punk (though The Ramones were partly a return to those 50s values) but in my heard there's still a deep love for the old, pure stuff.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:14 PM on May 25, 2011


Imagine how pathetic would have been like if the Beatles had kept the moptop haircuts, collarless jackets, black pointed boots, and yeah-yeah-yeahs into their middle aged years, playing Vegas and oldies tours

Imagine if they'd kept the punk spirit of their Hamburg days. The world could have been one giant Nuggets compilation.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:15 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What If... Bruce Springsteen, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, and Lady GaGa Had Formed The Beatles?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still remember reading his obituary in rolling stone when I as a kid
it was only maybe a third of a page
posted by SatansCabanaboy at 8:10 PM on May 25, 2011


Great post, thanks. Great comments, also. I was a huge Bill Haley fan. I gave away a 45 of his to a friend the other day. Now I wish I hadn't. I guess I still am a huge fan.

And Faze- mad props.
posted by bdave at 10:39 PM on May 25, 2011


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