Rest in peace Bobby Vee: the crooner who stayed Catholic and got me through a broken heart

Bobby Vee, teen idol of the 1950s.
Bobby Vee, teen idol of the early 1960s.

Six years ago I went through a difficult breakup. I had dated a girl for three years, was very much in love and had even bought an engagement ring.

Somehow it all went down the gurgler and the only winner was my sister, who happily inherited the above mentioned ring as a 21st Birthday present.

During that time I felt anger, resentment and betrayal.

Above all I was hurt, still in love, and could not express the multitude of emotions rolling around inside me, an elephant on roller skates onboard a ship during a storm.

So, being an overly sentimental sucker in need of therapeutic remedy, I made myself a breakup CD.

I compiled songs that spoke to me; songs with melodies that resonated with everything I was feeling and that expressed the way my heart wanted to scream out.

The songs told the story of my breakup and countless other breakups experienced around the world in every epoch of human history. And it was here, on my breakup CD that Bobby Vee emerged in my consciousness as a shining star.

I had always known of Bobby Vee, but it was only in experiencing the heart-wrenching aches of lost love that his songs began bubbling up to grab my attention, unlocking themselves in new ways that would finally forge – for me – a lifetime bond with this remarkable singer.

I soon realised his songs were not just great melodies with lyrics that were well sung, but that they were communicated so believably and rousingly they offered the very key with which one could unlock their own experiences.

He was the perfect ‘teen idol’ because he sang of unstable love in such a way that made you appreciate having been through it, just for the fact that you could enjoy his singing of it in that personal way, creating a bond, like a secret friendship between yourself and him.

He was your teen idol, because he knew you, and wasn’t it great to be understood.

Listening to Bobby Vee’s heartbreak songs was like uncontrollable sobbing for the sake of pleasure. And the pleasure that arose became cathartic.

How can I explain the piercing sensation when one line sung by Bobby cuts through everything else?

Which guy has never been filled with doubt and anxiety in the midst of love, loudly proclaiming, “Don’t you know I need you so, tell me please I’ve got to know…” and internally asking, “do you mean to make me cry, or am I just another guy?”

How many of us, in bitter defiance have made that promise, if only to the empty air, “he took my place, but when you see my face, you won’t forget me!”

How many of us have relented later in the silence of night with, “take good care of my baby… and if you should discover, that you don’t really love her, send my baby back home to me”?

And how many young lovers have grown up through the experience of first love lost, learning what it means to find healing and restoration, while never being the same again:

“I had to learn how to cry out in distress, and you had to learn only how to love me less. And we’ve learned well, how to make a farewell. You had to learn to ignore me when we meet, and I had to learn how to smile and not to weep. Yes, we’ve learned well, how to make a farewell…”

Yet, in the midst of such pathos, Bobby takes your heart soaring. It was as if his singing drew you into a tragic joy.

Perhaps this strange coupling sprang from the very birth of his career when he got his big break as the result of music’s most famous tragedy, the one that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper en route to Minnesota when their plane went down.

Local boy Robert Velline (aged 15 at the time) with his hastily-assembled band were given the unenviable task of replacing Buddy Holly for the scheduled concert.

Bobby Vee never forgot the tragedy that paved the way to his success, and perhaps it was this knowledge that kept him reputedly one of the most humble and down-to-earth stars of his time.

Countless fans write of their personal encounters with him, and the authentic kindness and friendship he would show to each.

Bobby Vee was a devout Catholic and a dedicated family man, married to Karen Bergen from 1963 until her death in 2015, and a devoted father to his four children.

He was very involved with his local community and believed in giving back to it through active involvement and generous charitable work.

At age 67 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and realising it would mean an almost immediate retirement, he made one last album with his family.

Known as The Adobe Sessions, this album included a spiritual song, The Maker that presents the figure of St John the Baptist. During the recording Bobby contacted the brothers at St John’s Abbey, a community he had often visited, and invited them to incorporate chant into the song.

They chose Ut Queant Laxis (A Hymn to St John the Baptist) and in Latin chanted, “So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John.”

This brilliant infusion of chant and song could also be seen to offer a representation of Bobby Vee the man; the 1960’s teen idol and singing star infused with the man of faith and charity.

In the song, The Idol, Bobby laments, “It isn’t easy to be an idol, when you’re not made of stone. Everybody’s with someone, but an idol stands alone.”

In reality Bobby Vee did not hold himself up as an idol, but was a man of humility, dedicated to his Catholic faith, faithful to his friends and surrounded by a loving family.

What’s more, he not only helped me get over a broken heart but made me enjoy having one.

Eternal rest grant unto him and may he rest in peace.

Bobby Vee’s funeral Mass was held on 2 November, 2016 in St John’s Abbey, Collegeville. 

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