The day the music (almost) died
5 February 2021-
2 days ago, we celebrated the 62d anniversary of the day the music died. Well, almost. Here is what happened, for those who were not around — then or 2 days ago...
For those who may still wonder, Buddy Holly is not just a Weezer song (albeit a great one). No, it is actually the name of one of the most important pioneers of modern music. Along with Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and a handful others, Holly is effectively responsible for the emergence of a musical genre that took over the second half of the century — before another, also mostly spawned by African-Americans artists, took over: hip hop — and that is rock n’ roll.
Indeed, although that would be an entirely different yet absolutely thrilling piece, the roots of rock n’ roll can largely be found in the blues that stemmed from the South of the United States, as it was being composed and performed by African-American artists. Add to that a hint of folk and country, and you got yourself the basis of decades of musical creation throughout the globe. Back in the 1950’s, when all that was every much on the horizon rather than in the history books, young Buddy Holly was one of the key artisans of this budding genre. Contrary to an Elvis, whose performing prowess was not necessarily matched by corresponding composing skills, Holly wrote most (if not all) of what he performed, thus showing a knack for pushing the envelope towards what is now considered the start of modern popular music.
And that knack didn’t come unnoticed: by the age of 22, Holly had already performed on the Ed Sullivan show — now home to Stephen Colbert’s Late show, in a clear sign that comedy is arguably the new rock n’ roll — and had had a number #1 song with his band the Crickets: the now classic “That’ll be the day”. As his career and profile were rising, the young man was hard at work touring the country to get the word out that music was in the process of changing forever. That is what he was doing in the winter of 1959, as part of the “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest. And he was not alone: 28-year old “veteran” The Big Bopper was around, a staple of the then-new country scene, as well as rising latino star Ritchie Valens, who had released the hit song “La Bamba” the year before — at age 16….
As this was winter — and the Midwest, it was understandably cold. In-between gigs in Iowa and Minnesota, Holly decided that the bus tour he and his band were riding on was not cutting it anymore. Indeed, musicians sound better on-stage when they are not nursing a cold… So he decided to do something that was quite unusual at the time: charter a plane for the group. At the last minute, The Big Bopper and Valens switched seats with 2 band members, and off they went… for a minutes: for reasons unclear to this day, the plane crashed mere minutes after taking off, instantly killing all passengers on board.
The immediate aftermath of that event was quite significant: fans mourned the departed artists, whose stars rose in the early firmament of rock n’ rollers gone too soon. Interestingly, however, its importance only grew with time, along with the music it was most associated with. In 1971, folk rock singer Don McLean released “American pie“, an 8 minutes and 36 seconds-long song about that sad day, which he called “the day the music died”. The point he was trying to make in the song was that this very moment sparked a new era for music and society alike, one that was devoid of the perceived innocence the 50’s sounded like, ushering the edgier music of the swinging 60’s.
Indeed, you can’t swing without music forcefully playing in the background…