The Day the Music Died

Fifty-years ago today, news was broadcast about a plane, on it's way to Fargo, North Dakota, that went down in bad weather new Clear Lake, Iowa taking the lives of J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, 28; Ritchie Valens (originally Valenzuela), 17; and Charles Hardin Holley, 22, better known as Buddy Holly. A tragic story, indeed but, having occurred nearly a decade before my birth, I didn't feel that the event impacted my life in any way-- even though I had a great interest in music... especially Rock 'n Roll. 

The sad event, however, did influence Rock 'n Roll and many of the early artists that would leave a mark and, in fact, lay the foundation and several of the main-floors of the giant structure that the music has become in pop-culture. Legends such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon from the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Rolling Stones-- Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have declared Buddy Holly a foremost contributor to the success of Rock 'n Roll and a major influence on their own career-paths.

There have been two movies made that recount events in the lives of the men leading up to the accident. The 1987 film, La Bamba, gave Lou Diamond Phillips, playing Valens, his big break and 1978's, The Buddy Holly Story, even earned, crazy-man, Gary Busey, an Oscar nomination for his role of Holly. Although some of the facts have been altered for dramatic effect, either flick is worth a rental on a Saturday afternoon or weeknight.

These motion pictures brought the story of the musicians to people my age and younger some 20-30 years after their death but many in the mainstream had heard the story before in song. Though they may not have realized it, Don McLean tells us about it in his 1971 hit, American Pie. The song is an abstract story of his life and Rock 'n Roll's part in it that starts with the accident and ends in 1970.

The eight-minute 33-second song is the longest in Billboard's history to make it to number-one and spent four-weeks there in 1972. Because of it's length, Top 40 stations would originally only play the shortened B-side, but the song's popularity eventually forced them to play the whole thing. It is now considered a rock anthem and it's importance to America's musical and cultural heritage has been recognized by many sources.

When I was a Freshman in high-school, I wrote a paper on the symbolism found in the song. At the time, I had to spend many hours in the local library, researching scholarly interpretations of the lyrics. Today, on the Web, everybody and their brother is ready to explain what they think it means. This, for one reason, is why I will not bore you with my analysis (the other reason is... I'm not sure what it all means) but this one is pretty good if you should want to check it out.

When they asked the writer what it all meant, McLean replied, "It means I never have to work another day in my life!" On a more serious note he claimed, "...long ago I learned that songwriters should make their statements and move on...", though later he did admit to hearing about the plane crash while folding newspapers to be delivered on his paper route on February 3, 1959.

I like that because, when you think about it, everyone is going to have their own interpretation of any song, or piece of art, or event, or conversation and even if I tell you what mine is-- it isn't going to change what it means to you... or at least I don't want it to.

So... I'll be moving on now.

...and the rest is Rock 'n Roll.


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