The Day the Music Died

 

A tangled mass of metal with a wing and landing gear wheel barely recognizable, on a snowy fieldIt was 64 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, IA, 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 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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  1. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Excellent tribute, She. Thank you. I hope there’s some small piece of redemption in such a tragedy that this song has all but inextricably woven itself into the fabric of our culture so that the events of that day will never be forgotten. Because I don’t think that music ever really dies.

    • #1
  2. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Memento Mori. It is for real. We have had several deaths in our extended faith family recently, so this hit home.

     

    On a more trivial note, the flight on which Stevie Ray Vaughn died almost became “The Day the Music Died, II”. Thankfully, neither Eric Clapton nor Robert Cray went with Vaughn that night. Personal irony: My friends Lance, Greg and I almost bought tickets to that last concert with SRV in Michigan. But I remember saying, “Nah, he´ll tour again.”

     

    • #2
  3. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    Excellent tribute, She. Thank you. I hope there’s some small piece of redemption in such a tragedy that this song has all but inextricably woven itself into the fabric of our culture so that the events of that day will never be forgotten. Because I don’t think that music ever really dies.

    You are correct. My son, Bobby Thompson, is a lifetime performing musician in our family and it is my hope this gets to the main feed where he can read it.

    • #3
  4. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    Waylon was apparently haunted for years because his last words to the guys getting on the plane was, “I hope your plane crashes,” because he had to travel in by car in the freezing weather.

    • #4
  5. E. Kent Golding Moderator
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    I heard Don McLean play this ( among other things ) at Meadowbrook near Detroit.   I can confirm that Don puts on a good show.

    • #5
  6. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD
    @DonTillman

    It’s a special kind of songwriting genius to create an 8-1/2 minute song that not only becomes a major hit (in a 3 minute market), but everybody can sing along with.

    • #6
  7. Chuck Coolidge
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    She: Kiss your spouse. Hug your kids. Tell those you love that you love them.

    Every time I find opportunity, I suggest the book “Finishing Well” by John Dunlop, MD.  It is there that I first read the exhortation to be diligent in saying “forgive me”; “I forgive you”; and “I love you.”

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Chuck (View Comment):

    She: Kiss your spouse. Hug your kids. Tell those you love that you love them.

    Every time I find opportunity, I suggest the book “Finishing Well” by John Dunlop, MD. It is there that I first read the exhortation to be diligent in saying “forgive me”; “I forgive you”; and “I love you.”

    I see that gracious attitude  coming across in your interactions with me here on the internet.

    For which I am grateful.

    • #8
  9. Chuck Coolidge
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Chuck (View Comment):

    She: Kiss your spouse. Hug your kids. Tell those you love that you love them.

    Every time I find opportunity, I suggest the book “Finishing Well” by John Dunlop, MD. It is there that I first read the exhortation to be diligent in saying “forgive me”; “I forgive you”; and “I love you.”

    I see that gracious attitude coming across in your interactions with me here on the internet.

    For which I am grateful.

    I can still be a jerk.

    • #9
  10. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Wow… My whole life, I didnt know it was in a Beechcraft Bonanza. Now it makes sense.

    The Beechcraft Bonanza has a terrible reputation, its called “Doctor Killer” because of all the fatal accidents this airplane has been in…

    All the conspiracy theories can now be silenced… “Dude, it was a Beechcraft Bonanza”

     

    • #10
  11. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    Wow… My whole life, I didnt know it was in a Beechcraft Bonanza.

    Me, neither.  My dad had a Bonanza when I was a kid.

     

     

    • #11
  12. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    Just got back from dinner with some guys, one of whom was wearing a hat with Van Gogh’s starry night paintng on it. That made me think of that McLean song, which then put American Pie in my head, not knowing today was that date.

    • #12
  13. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    The next concert was in Moorhead, but they were probably landing at Hector Field in Fargo, North Dakota, about six blocks from the house where I grew up.

    Always felt sorry for the Bopper. A DJ with musical ambitions. Lucked into a hit. He wrote some good tunes, but imagine touring alongside Holly, who had a true spark. Footnote:

    In January 2007, Jay Richardson requested that his father’s body be exhumed and an autopsy be performed in response to an internet rumor about guns being fired aboard the aircraft and Richardson initially surviving the crash. 

    There was no evidence of any of that. Shut up, internet.

    • #13
  14. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    I was taken aback by the age of the pilot — 21. Made me think of the old saw: “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots. “

    • #14
  15. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I was thirteen when that happened. I especially remember it because of the death of the Big Bopper. He only had one record that I remember, but it was a definite favorite of mine at the time. I remember so well the opening line:”Hello baby, this is the Big Bopper!” And the lines that followed, “You know what I like! Chantilly Lace and a pretty face, and a ponytail a hanging down..” All these years later,  I can still hear those lines as he spoke them in his very distinctive style.

    • #15
  16. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    I have always wondered what kind of music Buddy Holly would have evolved to had he lived. How would he have handled the Beatles and Stones and the coming hard rock?  We’ll never know. Thank you She. You give us words of wisdom. 

    • #16
  17. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD
    @DonTillman

    And the Grand Rapids version from a decade ago:

     

    • #17
  18. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    The music has died a LOT, hasn’t it? It went MIA on December 15, 1944 when Maj. Glenn Miller disappeared on a flight to Paris. It died again in 1963 when Patsy Cline and Hankshaw Hawkins went down near Camden, TN and when Jim Reeves perished a year later outside of Nashville.

    In 1967 it died with Otis Redding, in 1973 with Jim Croce and in 1977 with Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Was it killed or just badly wounded with Rick Nelson (1985), Dean Paul Martin (1987), Stevie Ray Vaughan (1990) or John Denver (1997)?

    Lesson to be learned? Fly commercial.

    • #18
  19. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Manny: You give us words of wisdom. 

    Let it be?

    • #19
  20. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD
    @DonTillman

    EJHill (View Comment):
    The music has died a LOT, hasn’t it?

    It died with Auto-Tune.

    It died with drum machines…

    • #20
  21. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Whiskey and rye or whiskey in Rye?

    • #21
  22. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Whiskey and rye or whiskey in Rye?

    I believe it’s whiskey and rye. 

    • #22
  23. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

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

    So, so, so true. In my own life how could I have possibly known the night my husband kissed me good night and said, “I love you” that it would be the very last thing he ever said to me after 48 years of married life? He was still warm the next morning, but he was gone. Our sweet Golden Retriever, Suzi, made it even sadder as she laid by his side all day until hospice confirmed the death, and the funeral people came and took him away from us forever.

    I can still see my mother in her car waving kisses at me and pleading “Come back soon” as she left me at the airport so I could return to my home in Seattle. How could I possibly know that I would see her in six weeks, only this time she would be lying in a casket in a funeral home?

    My darling younger sisters died within four months of each other when they were only 40 and 42 years old. I can’t speak more of their deaths, because, after more than 34 years, the heartbreaking agony I felt then is still too raw.

    And then, just three years ago, there’s my best friend Suzi, seemingly healthy one day and dying while I kissed her at the vet’s office the next day. Only this death was the one I knew was inevitable when the vet said she’d have to be on oxygen the rest of her life. 

    @She, thank you for this reminder of how fleeting is our life on this planet and how important it is to let those people we love know how much we care every day.

     

    • #23
  24. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    And the Grand Rapids version from a decade ago:

    Grand Rapids? There is a small but non- zero chance that people I know are in that photo.

    • #24
  25. She Member
    She
    @She

    Manny (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Whiskey and rye or whiskey in Rye?

    I believe it’s whiskey and rye.

    Yeah.  Always embrace the power of “and.”

    • #25
  26. She Member
    She
    @She

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

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

    So, so, so true. In my own life how could I have possibly known the night my husband kissed me good night and said, “I love you” that it would be the very last thing he ever said to me after 48 years of married life? He was still warm the next morning, but he was gone. Our sweet Golden Retriever, Suzi, made it even sadder as she laid by his side all day until hospice confirmed the death, and the funeral people came and took him away from us forever.

    I can still see my mother in her car waving kisses at me and pleading “Come back soon” as she left me at the airport so I could return to my home in Seattle. How could I possibly know that I would see her in six weeks, only this time she would be lying in a casket in a funeral home?

    My darling younger sisters died within four months of each other when they were only 40 and 42 years old. I can’t speak more of their deaths, because, after more than 34 years, the heartbreaking agony I felt then is still too raw.

    And then, just three years ago, there’s my best friend Suzi, seemingly healthy one day and dying while I kissed her at the vet’s office the next day. Only this death was the one I knew was inevitable when the vet said she’d have to be on oxygen the rest of her life.

    @ She, thank you for this reminder of how fleeting is our life on this planet and how important it is to let those people we love know how much we care every day.

    Heartbreaking, @goldwaterwoman.  I am so sorry.  

    • #26
  27. crogg Inactive
    crogg
    @crogg

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The next concert was in Moorhead, but they were probably landing at Hector Field in Fargo, North Dakota, about six blocks from the house where I grew up.

    Always felt sorry for the Bopper. A DJ with musical ambitions. Lucked into a hit. He wrote some good tunes, but imagine touring alongside Holly, who had a true spark. Footnote:

    In January 2007, Jay Richardson requested that his father’s body be exhumed and an autopsy be performed in response to an internet rumor about guns being fired aboard the aircraft and Richardson initially surviving the crash.

    There was no evidence of any of that. Shut up, internet.

    The other part of this story is that Bobby Vee and his schoolmates were the ones who filled in for the headliners at that concert.  That is how Bobby Vee got his start.  He went on to have a series of hits in the 1960s, including my personal favorite “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”  Another fun fact: before Bob Dylan became Bob Dylan, he toured with Bobby Vee as Bobby’s piano player until everyone figured out that Bob could not play the piano.  Bob Dylan feted Bobby Vee at a concert before Bobby’s death, saying that no one was a meaningful to his career as Bobby Vee.

    • #27
  28. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    crogg (View Comment):
    That is how Bobby Vee got his start.  He went on to have a series of hits in the 1960s, including my personal favorite “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” 

    It was OK, but it was no “Rubber Ball.”

    • #28
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