History, Music, Plain Speaking

The Day the Music Died

A tangled mass of metal with a wing and landing gear wheel barely recognizable, on a snowy fieldIt was sixty-four years ago today, on February 3, 1959.  Rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, when the pilot lost control of the plane in bad winter weather, and crashed into a cornfield.  All four on board, including the pilot, 21-year-old Roger Peterson, died in the crash.

Holly’s touring group, which also included such notables as Waylon Jennings, Dion and the Belmonts, and an assortment of excellent but lesser-known musicians, had been on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. Midwest.  Many of the performers were suffering the effects of a very cold winter, with colds, flu and frostbite making the rounds, and the plane was chartered to get Holly and a few others to the next destination (Moorhead, MN), more quickly and comfortably.

Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the plane, but swapped with Richardson, who had the flu.  Guitarist Tommy Allsup “lost” his seat on the plane to Valens through a coin toss. Allsup, who was originally thought to have died because he’d given Holly his wallet, so that Holly could pick up a letter on his behalf, survived and went on to work with, among others, Roy Orbison and Willie Nelson, and later produced retrospective hits for the great Bob Wills.

Chance.  Fate.  Destiny. Call it what you will.

I don’t know why things happen the way they do.  But I do know that we should live each day to the fullest, that we should never let the sun go down on unfinished ‘relationship business,’ and that we should keep both our consciences and–to the best of our abilities–our souls in good order.

Because. You. Never. Know.

The song, of course, is Don McLean’s.  Not really a favorite of mine, but I was a junior in high school when it was released (“A Long, Long, Time Ago”), and it’s a signature memory from my youth:

Kiss your spouse.  Hug your kids.  Tell those you love that you love them.  Try to minimize the disasters that chance can wreak.

Because. You. Never. Know.

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