Looking for Home: Mad Men and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”

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Do you ever long for true love from me?

I don’t know why, but Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”, contrary to its lyrical content, has always struck me as a rather haunting tune. It’s deceptively simple, employing almost nothing more than what sounds like a music box, Holly’s ostensibly feverishly jolly vocals, and some percussion to keep the rhythm. And despite the fact that the track seems to merely present something sweet and lovely, the testament of a young man yearning for the love of another woman, it is, frankly, kind of creepy. It’s hard to call it much else, especially given the fact that every time I’ve ever heard it, personally, it was used deliberately, to subvert or pervert tone, to be used ironically to dismantle something situationally.Even in Mad Men.

[SPOILERS BEWARE!]

Perhaps the most striking use that comes to mind is in the trailer for Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, a film that depicts the dysfunctional relationship between one woman and her son. The woman, it could be argued, is ill fit to raise the son; the son, it could be argued, is psychotic, or, at the very least, suffering from sort of attachment disorder. And in that way, their inability to, well, love each other or connect, married to many of the film’s most frightening images, is exacerbated by the use of the song. Its straightforward, adolescent incomplexity of its composition and its instrumentation almost digs its nails into the very idea of that mother/son relationship and claws through it. (I’ve always felt that Holly’s voice sounded psychotic, like the hiccup laugh in “a-hey, a-hey” was from a crazy person.)

It was used as the closing track to the latest episode of Matthew Weiner’s drama Mad Men, in the penultimate episode “The Milk and Honey Route”, perhaps the most actively dramatic episode of the (half?) season. Its usage seems significant in a number of ways.

Don Draper, who has existed primarily as a cipher and a man of complexity for whom television critics and college students love to break down and deconstruct, has gotten up and left behind the world of advertising he once knew. Every frame of every episode from this last half season has been a gradual relinquishment of power and of control, one that Draper had been acclimated to but, arguably, never felt totally comfortable with. He may have “liked” it, but liking things and feeling comfortable with them are different things, no?

The question of Don’s identity, which could really warrant a book, has always been subject of most of the discussion surrounding Mad Men. It wasn’t until this past season that I was ever interested in that discussion, as I always felt “the male anti-hero” was kind of a boring thing. But Weiner is revealing bit by bit that rather than falling into that archetype, or even the clichéd “flawed man” box, Don Draper just exists as purely human, capable of great and terrible things. Perhaps this has been a journey of watching Draper come to terms with what his identity means to him, never mind to the rest of us. It feels like with each passing episode, he (and the audience) count the days as they go by, waiting until he can stop doing that, waiting until he can live without the burden of being alive. It’s impossible, but it’s very “Human Condition”-y.

He finds himself, in this episode, in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma. He’s bullied into going to a fundraiser full of Veterans. He reveals, in his way, the truth of his identity. Though intoxicated, there’s an interesting look Draper’s face when he reveals he killed his commanding officer in Korea. On the one hand, there’s a certain amount of relief, the kind of look we last saw when Draper revealed that his real name was Dick Whitman to his children, and when he finally showed them the house where he grew up. On the other, there’s hesitation, for obvious reasons. Thus, an ambivalence. But that relief stems from his ambivalence about having oscillated between two identities and roles almost his entire adult life.

And in a way, Holy’s song, written and released as a single in 1957, articulates an ambivalence and an excitement. “Every day, it’s a getting’ closer, goin’ faster than a roller coaster,” Holly croons. This is the speed at which Draper’s life is going, an irony setting in. The freedom of one life and the implicit desire for things to, essentially, slow down. It never does, though. As the track goes on to warble, “Love like yours will surely come my way”, there’s a supposed determinism in there. But, as far as the context here, it almost feels fatalistic, impossible.

But that impossible sort of nihilism has always been, to some degree, been embedded in Mad Men. It’s been the assumption and desire on Draper’s part that “love” would “come his way”. But, as the sinisterly simple song suggests (a reading on my part, to be sure), it may be impossible anyways, like chasing a dragon. And while Draper has left behind that dragon, realizing its unattainability, the rest of the cast has as much ambivalence, even false hope, that they’ll be able to catch it. Ken, Pete, Peggy, Joan, Betty. Some of them have come to terms with it.

The season opened with Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”, which sounds on the nose, and yet speaks volumes to the thematic rug pulling Weiner is doing. Mad Men has been about a lot of things, but, in some ways, it has been most about reconciling with the answer that, yes, that’s all there is. Every body Don looks at, from the fur covered woman in “Severance” to the sun tanning woman in “The Milk and Honey Route”, is just a shell, either as aware or not as he is of the answer.

And I think one thing that has always struck me about “Everyday” is the imminence of the end, of loss, of finality. From the first beats, you’re waiting for it to push you off a cliff. And what is Mad Men if not haunting finality? (Its tttle sequence is a man falling, plummeting.)

The poster for the final season of Mad Men depicts Draper literally riding off into the sunset, tie loose, uncaring. Its an image that reoccurs in this half season. Opening the episode are the words, “We knew we’d catch up with you eventually”, spoken by a police officer pulling Don over. And the final frame, just as the song begins to play, has Draper, with his luggage, left on a bench, waiting for something to come his way. Maybe it’ll be truth and self-actualization. Maybe that’s what love is. Maybe that’s what home is.

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