Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2002
If rock'n'roll represented new, sexualised gender identities for the teenagers of the late 1950s, why (and how) were such identities constructed through the multiple voices of the group? In Buddy Holly's ‘Oh, Boy!’ the chorus plays a prominent supportive role in relation to the lead singer; but its continual echoing of the singer's ‘Oh boy!’ allows also for a literal hearing of cries of mutual desire and admiration between two men. This representation of the ‘buddy group’ has continuities with other group, or dual representations of male identity, where mutual, male selves and desires are constructed around an imagined, comforting woman. The presence of traces of the maternal body (Kristeva's ‘semiotic’ sphere) is audible in ‘Oh, Boy!’ through the chorus's separation of rhythm and melody, and in particular, its use of ‘children's rhythms’, consistent with those analysed by the musicologist Constantin Brailoiu as a cross-cultural phenomenon. In ‘Oh, Boy!’ children's rhythms are reworked in a dialogue between singer and chorus, and between guitar and chorus in the instrumental break, in such a way that after the break the singer is able to resolve the rhythmic tensions introduced in the first half of the song and get ‘everything right’. The new symbolic identity of male adolescent independence is audibly structured by the semiotic, so reversing the surface hearing of the song as involving the subordination of the chorus to lead singer in the consensual hierarchy of ‘buddy’ relations. The relationship of Buddy Holly to Bo Diddley adds a further dimension to this structure, where ostensible equality cannot mask the uncomfortable social hierarchy of the white rock star and black mentor, and where an appeal to the other as ‘boy’ would evoke not the buddy group, but slavery.
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