WASHINGTON—Saying that the time was right to come to terms with a difficult and enduring chapter in America’s history, President Obama admitted during his State of the Union address Tuesday night that the United States “just hasn’t been the same” since the death of music legend Buddy Holly.
After beginning his speech by touting several political and economic accomplishments realized during his most recent year in office, a wistful and visibly saddened Obama abruptly turned his attention to the death of Buddy Holly, spending the majority of the speech discussing the brighter, better years prior to the 22-year-old rock and roll pioneer’s sudden passing in a plane crash in 1959, and repeatedly stating that America would “likely never again see” such simple, prosperous times again.
“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens: In the one year since my reelection, more Americans have found jobs, our new health care system has delivered coverage to millions of previously uninsured individuals, and we have moved closer to our goal of energy independence,” said Obama before pausing and growing reflective. “But regardless of all these achievements, it’s time that we as a country recognize that things just haven’t been the same—in many ways, haven’t been right—since that dark February day when America was robbed of Buddy Holly.”
“What we lost on that day was so much more than a rock and roll musician—we lost our innocence, we lost our youth, we all lost a little bit of ourselves,” Obama continued, adding that Buddy Holly’s rare mix of talent, vision, and youthful vitality just hasn’t been seen in America for decades and almost certainly never again would be. “And of course, this all goes without mentioning the deaths of Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper—two more stars whose extinguishing from the firmament left our nation a little darker.”
Throughout the 75-minute speech, Obama discussed all three of Holly’s studio albums along with his numerous posthumously released recordings, noting that the death of the musician forever changed every aspect of America, instilling a grave sadness in the heart of the nation that remains to this very day.
According to the president, no advancements in science, no research and development subsidies, nor even any increase in arts funding could ever bring such a beloved icon back, and no government project of any kind could compare to the simple joy of witnessing “someone like Buddy—someone so gifted, so full of life—go up on stage with his Stratocaster and do what he does best.”
“When we talk about Buddy Holly, we’re really talking about a star with a once-in-a-lifetime brilliance who will never be replicated,” Obama said, noting that artists like Elvis Presley or even The Beatles could never fully heal the nation or restore the purity of American life that existed before Holly’s death. “Let’s face it: Buddy Holly changed America. In many ways, he defined and embodied America. And I’m talking about much more than what songs like ‘That’ll Be The Day’ did for rock music. I’m talking about his attitude, his presence—I'm talking about that feeling you get when you listen to wild, unbridled music and hold your girl close.”
“Do you know what I mean?” Obama then added, looking over his shoulders for a nod of approval from House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden.
Bypassing the traditional State of the Union format of laying out his political plans for the following year, Obama spent nearly a full 15 minutes reciting the lyrics to Holly’s 1957 single “Everyday,” pausing every few moments to let the words sink in, and explaining how the unforgettable song symbolized a more hopeful time for America.
“Of course, those Americans who were alive during Buddy Holly’s lifetime know exactly what it was like to be transported by a song made up of just a few simple chords that nevertheless manage to convey a feeling of unbounded brightness, optimism, and splendor,” said Obama, looking across the gathered assembly. “The tragic reality is that no one will ever get to experience that feeling again. And no matter what accomplishments we achieve as a nation, as a people united in a common purpose, we can never regain that lost joy and purity we once took for granted.”
“My fellow Americans, if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, I think we can all admit one thing,” Obama continued. “While the state of the union may be strong, it would have been a hundred times stronger if Buddy were still with us.”