February 3, 1959. Every year at this time, we pause to reflect and remember the sad, cold, day the music suddenly died.
Buddy Holly, only a year and a half into his promising career (he opened for Elvis in 1955!), was top billing on a 24 day tour through the Midwest with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. On an early morning flight flown by a very young pilot, the music died in an Iowa cornfield in a blizzard. Holly was 22 years old. His bass player, Waylon Jennings, was scheduled to fly on that plane, but he gave his seat up to the Big Bopper who was under the weather. His guitarist, Tommy Allsup, flipped a coin with Valens for the last seat. Valens ‘won’. This turn of events and the short musical career of Holly impacted music worldwide. In ways we can’t imagine.
Buddy Holly’s records influenced both John Lennon and George Harrison. The cover of the first Rollin Stones’ single released in the United States was the cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. And if Waylon Jennings had been on that plane??? My life would have been decidedly different. I was raised on Willie and Waylon…
In the early seventies, my sister and I practiced cheers and cartwheels for hours at a time in the front yard with the radio blaring. American Pie was our favorite cartwheel and herkie practicing song. We sang it off key and loudly as we ran from one end of the yard to the other trying to get up the speed and nerve to flip. We didn’t really understand the song’s meaning —most of the phrases were mysterious, almost like a riddle. And back then we couldn’t google the lyrics or press the back button on the iPod, we had to wait until the next time it played on the radio. Fortunately it was regularly played.
Bye-Bye Miss American Pie. We liked pie. Papa Homer made the best fried peach pies! And, we loved the Miss America pageant, so therefore it was a good song. One of the highlights of the year was watching the Miss America pageant with Nana. We stayed up late, each picked our favorite contestant, cheered like crazy for Miss Arkansas even though she rarely won, and fell asleep on the floor right before it was over.
Drove My Chevy to the Levee. We knew all about driving ‘chevys to the levees’. Daddy drove a chevy. It always smelled dusty inside, from driving up and down the turnrows. And we lived only a couple of miles from the Mississippi River. A huge levee kept our mighty river in check. We often drove over the levee in Osceola or Wilson just to make sure the river was still there.
Drinking Whiskey and Rye. My sister and I knew what ‘drinking whiskey’ was. Daddy had a whole liquor cabinet full of the stuff. I wasn’t so sure about what rye was though…
And While the King was Looking Down. Obviously the King was Elvis. Everyone knew that. We drove by Graceland all the time. We practically knew Elvis.
Helter Skelter in a Summer Swelter. – Okay this was where the song started to get a little freaky. Charles Manson had murdered that poor Sharon Tate. SameLastNameAsUs!! That was a little too close to home for me. The song was reeeaaalllly long, and I thought Mr. McLean could have left this part out altogether.
A Generation Lost in Space. Easy peesy. We saw the moon landing at school. In first grade. Plus, my mother nearly got us kicked out of the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis for taking a picture of the moon rock. They tried to take her camera but she wasn’t about to let that happen. It was embarrassing, and on my birthday… Just this once, couldn’t she not draw attention to us?
No Angel Born in Hell Could Break that Satan’s Spell. Well that was scary. I was a good little Baptist girl. No one had to explain the devil to me.
The last verse was just plain sad. The tempo was slower, and I wanted to cry when I thought about how the music wouldn’t play. But overall, it was the best song I’d ever heard. It gave me much to think about while practicing my cartwheels.