by Phil Masters
Early on in discussions of the GURPS Who's Who project, Steve Jackson Games and I realized that it was likely to demand more than 128 pages. There were just too many candidates from across all of history to boil it down to one book. Fortunately, the powers that be agreed that this was a good excuse to get two good books out of the idea. Volume 1 was produced fairly briskly, to slip into the schedules early this year, and we had no trouble finding 52 good submissions; then, after a short pause in which I drew breath, we fired up again for volume 2.
Art by andi jones
And -- surprise, surprise -- by the time I'd finished taking submissions from all the smart, versatile GURPS-and-history fans out there, it was clear that the second volume wasn't going to suffer from a shortage of good material either. In fact, in the end I dropped most of the ideas that I'd been playing with for "supporting structure," trimmed what I kept to a lean, mean minimum, and crammed in no less than 56 historical figures this time around -- from, no kidding, Sargon of Assyria to Sid Vicious. It was worth it. Once again, people had impressed the heck out of me with a display of research and writing, from the famous to the weird.
And no, I didn't get just those 56 good submissions, either. To my frustration, I had to slam the brakes on while I knew that people were still developing ideas, and then to exclude a heap of good ideas. Future publishing plans are up to Steve Jackson Games, not me, but if these first two books sell as well as I think they deserve, then I think that someone ought to be talking about a third, some time. Meanwhile, we've got some cool stuff lurking in limbo . . .
One figure that might be interesting for such a treatment in a future book is the, umm, ever-controversial Karl Marx. Actually, I did a brief treatment of Marx for the "short entries" appendix that I subsequently had to trim (though not delete altogether); he was one of the names that was eliminated in that process. Since then, I've read a little more about the man, and come to the conclusion that I should have written more about him anyway. But here's some basic notes for the moment:
Karl MarxKarl Marx was born in 1818, in Prussia, the son of a Jewish lawyer of liberal sympathies. He went to university at Bonn and Berlin, living the life of a German student of the day -- getting drunk, even fighting a duel on one occasion -- but also developing radical interests. He studied Hegel's philosophy, which claims that everything progresses through the clash of opposites, but took a more materialistic approach than Hegel himself. In 1842, he became a journalist, and soon the editor of a liberal Berlin newspaper, which was highly successful before it was banned for being too outspoken.
In 1843, Marx married and moved to Paris. In 1845, the Prussians caused him to be deported from France; he moved to Belgium, where, in collaboration with Friedrich Engels, he wrote a series of books and The Communist Manifesto, with its climactic call, "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite!"
In 1848, revolutions and uprisings spread across Europe, and Marx worked for the cause in France and Germany. But the radicals were suppressed, and in 1849, Marx moved to London. (Britain, standing aloof from events in Europe, was relatively tolerant of radical activists.) There, he fell into poverty, and several of his children died; Engels gave him a little money, and he also wrote for The New York Tribune, but he ironically proved unable to budget below the comfortable bourgeois level at which he had been raised, which was more than he could afford; only more money from Engels, who was rising in his family's manufacturing firm, saved him from disaster. Prussian spies, who had been watching him, wrote him off.
Marx took to the British Museum library, developing his masterwork, Capital ("Das Kapital"), a lengthy discussion of society, history and economics, and the way he expected capitalist society to disintegrate into revolution. In 1864, he joined the "International Working Men's Association," which eventually made him famous across Europe as one of its leaders, but which also embroiled him in arguments with anarchist members, who he despised. He died in 1883; Only one volume of Capital had been published by then, but Engels edited and published the remaining two.
Despite his membership of radical movements, Marx was a very poor orator; he worked best in small groups, or alone, as an "ideas man," and it was his ideas that survived, to be picked up and adapted for very different circumstances by Lenin and Mao. The face of the German philosopher eventually looked down on military parades in Moscow and collective farms in China; what he would have thought of this is uncertain, but he would probably have been pleased to know just how much of an ogre he became to the political right.
Today, with the fall of all but a couple of die-hard Marxist states, Marx might seem completely discredited. However, some of his ideas -- about the decline of social relationships, or on the way that systems carry the seeds of their own destruction -- still strike a chord, even with some on the right, and he still represents one alternative for those who turn against modern capitalism; they can argue that, like other beliefs, Marxism has not so much failed as never been tried. Perhaps, in future centuries, there will still be Marxist revolutionaries -- or perhaps academics will borrow fragments of his theories without having to worry about their reputations.
Removing Marx from history might make a vast or a limited difference to the 20th century. The revolutionary movements that used his name and ideas might well have found some other ideology; history is hardly short of anarchist, socialist, and revolutionary thinkers. Certainly, many of the governments that fell to "Marxist" revolt were ramshackle empires, decaying kingdoms, or corrupt plutocracies ripe for some kind of revolution. On the other hand, Marx's densely-argued theories, with their "scientific" analysis and suggestions that revolutionary victory was historically inevitable, provided an especially handy rallying-point, and also inspired numerous attempts to organize economies and societies on specifically "Marxist" lines. Ironically, Marx's own logic would seem to suggest that no single individual is crucial to the grand sweep of history.
Another cut; the biography-devouring Bill Stoddard came through on this volume as on the first, and perhaps as a matter of statistical inevitability, some of his submissions were squeezed out of the final plan. One of these was a treatment of classic '50s rocker and tragic death-too-young Buddy Holly. Actually, though, I took the excuse to read up on Holly a little myself, and -- with Bill's permission -- I revised his entry in accord with what I found. Here it goes:
Buddy HollyTotal Points: 64
Born 1936; Died 1959.
Age 22; 5'11"; 145 lbs.; a wiry young man with dark-rimmed glasses.
ST: 10 [-]
IQ: 12 
DX: 12 
HT: 10 [-]
AdvantagesManual Dexterity +1 ; Musical Ability +3 ; Reputation +1 (as a recording star, among rock and roll fans) .
DisadvantagesBad Sight (nearsighted) [-10]; Sense of Duty (family and close friends) [-5].
QuirksGoes driving to think; Impatient with others' horseplay; Prone to snap decisions; Racially tolerant, with a taste for black music; Religious believer (but prone to moral lapses); Shy and moody. [-5]
SkillsArea Knowledge (Texas)-12 ; Artist (specialized as Draftsman)-8/14 [1/2]; Carpentry-11 [1/2]; Dancing-11 ; Driving (Car)-11 ; Electronics Operation (Recording Equipment)-10 [1/2]; Fishing-11 [1/2]; Gambling-10 [1/2]; Guns (Pistol)-13 [1/2]; Guns (Rifle)-13 [1/2]; Leatherworking-11 [1/2]; Masonry-11 [1/2]; Mechanic (Gasoline Engines)-10 [1/2]; Motorcycle-11 [1/2]; Musical Composition-17 ; Musical Instrument (Bass Guitar)-13* ; Musical Instrument (Drums)-13 ; Musical Instrument (Guitar)-16 ; Musical Instrument (Piano)-13 ; Performance-10 [1/2]; Poetry-12 ; Powerboat-10 [1/2]; Singing-16 ; Sports (Water-Skiing)-10 [1/2]; Survival (Desert)-10 [1/2].
*Default from Guitar.
All skills are at TL7 where relevant.
LanguagesEnglish (native)-12 ; Spanish-10 [1/2].
EquipmentHolly owns various guitars, notably a Fender Stratocaster. He drives a Cadillac sedan or rides an Ariel motorcycle (although touring requires him to go by bus or plane). When on tour, he carries a .22 "vest pocket" pistol in his shaving kit, for protection when carrying cash payments. (When dealing with especially shady-seeming promoters, he may sometimes mention this.)
On his 22nd birthday, Holly has been married for three weeks, and he is starting to think about breaking off his contract with his manager. He has begun exploring new types of music, from flamenco to contemporary pop, and is thinking about doing a gospel album. His health would be good were it not for a persistent stomach ulcer, which goes badly with his taste for rich food and the occasional drink.
Holly was considered good-looking in high school, but acne scars and a light build later diminished his attractiveness. However, the scars have now been medically treated, and he has worked out in the gym enough to put on some muscle; with the grooming appropriate to a successful stage performer, this could justify Attractive Appearance. His music makes a fair amount of money, but his manager is difficult about releasing it; although he can sometimes afford a new car or generous gifts, he often has to live off others, to his embarrassment.
Incidentally, Holly never learned to read music, although late in his career he took a few lessons in stagecraft with a view to his career options. He may have driven his brother's 18-wheeler truck a few times, and he apparently took one flying lesson, but neither would be enough to raise the relevant skills above default.
BiographyCharles Hardin Holley was born in 1936 in Lubbock, Texas, the youngest child of a working-class family who nicknamed him "Buddy." His parents emphasized hard work and Baptist church values; they were also musical, and supported their son's career. He was an average student, bright enough to get acceptable grades without working too hard; he also raised a little hell while growing up (there are persistent though unreliable stories of an illegitimate child), but he took his religion seriously. He did develop a taste for black music, which led him to reject the racism prevalent in his environment.
In junior high school, he and his friend Bob Montgomery began performing rock and roll. A local radio announcer, Hi Pockets Duncan, encouraged them, and agreed to act as their manager. One of their performances attracted the attention of Eddie Crandall, a Nashville agent, who offered Holley a contract with Decca in 1956 -- on which his last name was spelled "Holly," a change he accepted as easier for people to remember.
The contract did not include Montgomery, who dropped out gracefully; likewise, Duncan was unable to travel. Holly recruited a new band, borrowed $1,000 from his brother for his first Stratocaster, and went on tour, not very successfully. He started recording in Clovis, New Mexico, at a studio owned by Norman Petty. Despite Duncan's warnings about Petty's business reputation, Holly's band signed him as their new manager.
Following some turnover in membership, the new line-up chose the name "the Crickets" and released "That'll Be the Day," their first hit. This led to a national tour (on which some promoters who had heard Holly's music, assuming he was black, booked him into black venues). Their initial show at the Apollo in Harlem had an unfriendly audience, but the band's energetic performances won the crowd over. In December, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
In June 1958, in New York, Holly fell into conversation with Maria Elena Santiago, a Puerto Rican receptionist at Peer-Southern Music. He asked her to go out with him that night, and (according to legend) asked her to marry him over dinner. The marriage was not publicized, because of Holly's sense of privacy and because of concern about public reaction to his marrying a Hispanic woman. However, she became a partner in his business decisions and encouraged him to break with Petty, who was at best possessive, at worst obsessively manipulative (and not terribly useful in dealings with the New York-based music industry); however, the Crickets stayed with Petty. (Maria Elena probably had rather better business sense than her husband; in GURPS terms, she could rate as a useful Ally or Contact.)
From late 1958, Holly lived in New York, for business reasons and because he disliked Texan racial attitudes. He wrote new songs and started producing records for other artists. Early in 1959, short of money, he agreed to go on a tour of the Midwest. The tour was poorly run, with freezing, antiquated buses, and Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," decided to charter a small plane to get them from Mason City to Fargo. Their pilot, a rock fan who was probably under-qualified to fly in the winter weather, became disoriented not long after take-off and crashed, killing everyone aboard.
Holly in HistoryBuddy Holly was a pioneer in bringing rock and roll, formerly marketed as "race records," to a white audience. His songs inspired later performers, not least the Beatles, while one of the Rolling Stones' first recordings was one of Holly's songs -- and, of course, there was Don McLean's tribute, "American Pie." After Holly recorded "Peggy Sue," the name turned up in other songs; it still evokes 1950s rock and roll.
EncounteredOn stage, Holly is dynamic; elsewhere, he remains somewhat shy and moody, though highly determined. His marriage has made him more self-confident, and he dresses more professionally than previously. He strikes many people as a "thinking man," who takes everything from his music to his religion seriously (as demonstrated by a string of innovative touches in his recordings). Non-white characters will find him unusually free of bias, and he is capable of both straightforward courtesy and spectacular generosity.
He enjoys a party as much as most people, and sometimes displays a somewhat juvenile sense of humor, but his ulcer limits his drinking, and his increasing impatience with violent horseplay was one cause of stress between himself and his band. He will accept the offer of a game of cards or (especially) dice when bored. He sometimes makes snap decisions when he is tired (a habit which verges on GURPS Impulsiveness); early in his career, this caused him to sign away rights to some of his work, and it later showed up in his marriage proposal; it may also be why he chose to take his last flight.
--William H. Stoddard and Phil Masters
Amburn, Ellis: Buddy Holly: The real Story.
Goldrosen, John, and Beecher, John: Remembering Buddy.
"The Buddy Holly Collection" (MCA Records -- all 50 songs that Holly ever recorded.)
The movie The Buddy Holly Story is inaccurate in many details; it catches some of his character, but is not a reliable factual source.
Not How it Used to BeThe obvious change in Buddy Holly's life would be not to end it early, but to prolong it. When he died, he was starting to develop a more complex sound; rock could have matured more quickly through his contributions. His willingness to write for other performers would have helped this. He had also started to think about getting involved in the business side, as a producer; a chain of studios which he ran could have given greater emphasis to the performer's ideas and hastened the emergence of rock as a vehicle for personal statements. Perhaps a group of musician PCs could sign with one of the great independent labels of the 1960s and 1970s -- run by Buddy Holly.
How would he have dealt with the social crises of the 1960s? It seems likely that he would have supported the civil rights movement. Perhaps the decade would have been remembered more for idealism and less for nihilism, had he lived to see it.
On the other hand, PCs in an alternate 1980s might meet an embittered middle-aged man who looks back on a music scene that left him behind and a hasty youthful marriage that fell apart. This could make a great "nothing to lose" character. (See GURPS Wild Cards for a somewhat similar What If.) And for a different variation, note that the promoter "Colonel" Tom Parker took a brief interest in the young Buddy Holly, but decided to focus entirely on his greatest discovery, Elvis Presley. If Parker had taken control of Holly's career, the clash of temperaments would have been interesting; Holly might not have been as manipulable as Presley.
The Day the Music DiedThere were some unconvincing fringe theories about Holly's last flight -- suggestions that the musicians had been taking drugs, or that Holly's pistol, which turned up in the wreckage, had been fired. In an Atomic Horror or Illuminated campaign, that flight might end much more mysteriously -- not with a crash, but with a disappearance. Holly and his companions might still be alive as prisoners of aliens, in a hidden base on Earth or in space. PCs might meet Holly after being taken prisoner themselves, or might have the chance to rescue him.
Of course, the fact that a body was found need not be decisive; sufficiently advanced biotechnology could easily produce a fake corpse. PCs with sophisticated laboratories might uncover something not quite right about the bodies, if they were allowed to look.
Article publication date: November 25, 1999
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