Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Day the Music Died

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.
Don McLean

There are people screaming in the streets of Cairo, but for a few minutes I’m thinking about the Midwest instead of the Middle East. And the past rather than the present.

Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) died fifty two years ago today in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

They were on a tour called "The Winter Dance Party," which was scheduled to cover two dozen Midwestern cities in three weeks. The logistical challenges of transporting several bands by bus to so many cities in such a short time were significant. When they got to Clear Lake, Holly suggested to his band mates that they charter a plane to take them to the next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota.

They made arrangements for a 21 year-old local pilot, Roger Peterson, to fly them in a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza. The plane seated three passengers in addition to the pilot. Because he had developed a case of the flu, Richardson asked Waylon Jennings if he would agree to give up his seat on the plane. When Holly heard about it, he told Jennings he hoped the “ol’ bus freezes up,” and Jennings responded in jest, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes". Those words would haunt Waylon Jennings for the rest of his life.

The plane crashed shortly after take-off, caused by a combination of bad weather and pilot error. Because he was unfamiliar with the instruments in the Beechcraft, the young pilot may have thought the plane was ascending when it was actually going down.

I was too young to really notice when it happened. I was not old enough to care about Rock and Roll. But I feel a melancholy sadness looking back.

The music didn’t really die. In fact, you can argue that it got better. But I cannot listen to Buddy Holly without thinking that something wonderful was lost. The music was special.

On this day I am reminded (if I need reminding) that life is fragile and precious, and that every day is a gift.

Everyday it's a gettin' closer,
Goin' faster than a roller coaster,
Love like yours will surely come my way,

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