Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Day the Music Died

Fifty years ago today, rock pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson), on their way to a concert in Moorhead, Minnesota, were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

I was only one and a half at the time. In 1971, however, Don McLean recorded the engimatic "American Pie", one of the longest songs ever to become a radio hit, and I spent a lot of time trying to decipher the lyrics. It was a real challenge for a teenager with little knowledge of rock music and no Internet to look things up. Eventually I figured out that the song was referring to the death of Buddy Holly:

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died...

I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn't play...

"American Pie" also had references to many other figures from rock music, including The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, and John Lennon. This 1993 column from The Straight Dope discusses some of them. "American Pie" led me to learn to play many Don McLean songs on the guitar, including "Castles in the Air", "Vincent", and "Empty Chairs".

In 1978, the amazing Gary Busey starred in "The Buddy Holly Story", a superb re-telling of Buddy Holly's life and music. It ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies.

On the way back from our sabbatical in Tucson in 2002, we stopped in the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas -- a must-see destination for any fan of early rock. It contains Buddy Holly's guitars, his school report cards, and has a giant pair of his famous glasses out in front.

Tonight I'm going to put on some Buddy Holly and Don McLean and remember these great musicians, and how they changed my life.


RBH said...

I was a year out of high school and lived not too far across the Minnesota border at that time. Right now I'm listening to "It Doesn't Matter Any More", which I just recently learned was written by Paul Anka.

Anonymous said...

There's a good discussion thread here.