Chip and Claire

In late 1981 or possibly early '82, during our freshman year of college, my good friend Andy Cohen returned from the wilds of New England on a break and brought with him a copy of a cassette tape unlike anything I'd ever heard before--I dare say unlike anything the rest of the world had ever heard before, either. It was a singer-songwriter with a sense of humor so black it was practically blazing ultraviolet, a guy whose subjects included murder, revolution, and drugs, whose targets included both preppies and anti-nuclear protesters, and whose titles seemed a little raw for the typical folksinger: "We Will Retake Saigon" and "These Morons Have to Go," for example.

This, in short, was Buddy Holocaust.

Buddy, whose real name was Bill Tate, had apparently played only one gig, a single dinnertime show at Dartmouth, but it had become the stuff of legend, and a cassette of his songs was making the rounds of college radio stations. I worked at one of them, WXYC, but even I knew this was pretty strong stuff even for a station that routinely played such pointed songs as the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia." I mean, in one song, the anti-drug anthem "Guess I Lost My Head" (also known as "Drugs Did This to Me"), Buddy sang in extensive detail about killing his girlfriend and cutting her body to pieces, leading to this plaintive chorus:

It's true, drugs did this to me
Forced to kill on PCP
Yes, I escaped reality
Now she seems dead
Guess I lost my head


I found myself fixating on another song, which I knew as "Chip and Claire," but which was known to others as "Preppy Love." In it, the titular couple went through the beginnings of a relationship, then marriage, then--well, I'll just let you listen to it here.

And why am I sharing this with you? Because this evening, I discovered that I was not the only one who remembered those startling songs, though the tape vanished from my ken (and I suspect Andy's) soon after I first heard them. The internet had set aside a corner for Buddy, and though I haven't found them all, there appear to be several of his songs floating around the Web in mp3 form, plus the seemingly singular YouTube video above.

Indeed, Buddy's story made it into a book called Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music by Eric Weisbard, and you can read part of it here. The saddest part of the tale is its brevity. Bill Tate, at the age of 21, ended his musical career and his life in November of 1981 when he crashed his car--possibly on purpose. He was already dead when I heard his music for the first time.

The potency of his songs was extraordinary--even today, nearly 30 years after hearing them, I could have sung you pieces of "Preppy Love" and "Guess I Lost My Head." But in some ways, I suppose I remember them because I myself tried to keep them going, if only through a tiny tip of the hat. When the other members of Terminal Mouse and I were composing our as-close-as-we-got-to-a-hit "Cows from Hell," which told the story of a group of angry cows assaulting a town full of yuppies, I put together a verse describing a yuppie couple being subjected to a bovine ambush. But I needed names for this couple--good, solid, names for a pair of well-to-do professionals who would never have guessed in a million years that their placid First-World lives were about to be completely disrupted by the forces of irony and chaos.

And of course, I immediately seized upon the names Chip and Claire.

In pace requiescat, Buddy. As strange as it may seem, you are remembered, and you are appreciated.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 24, 2010 11:10 PM.

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