A snowy field in Clear Lake

Today is the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, as it’s come to be known: the day that a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all three musicians. Sheila O’Malley has an excellent post on the subject; check it out.

I went to college in that area, actually: Wartburg College is in Waverly, IA, which is roughly an hour’s drive away from the Mason City and Clear Lake area. For people in that part of Iowa, The Day the Music Died isn’t just a tragic day in the history of rock-n-roll, but rather an important and sad part of local folklore. I drove through Clear Lake a number of times, with various friends on a number of road trips, and though we never went out to the field where the plane went down, we did drive by the Surf Ballroom once or twice.

I also remember watching American Graffiti when I was in college, and there’s a line in that movie — I think the Paul LeMat character, the hot-rod race driving guy, says it — to the effect that “music’s been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died”. This in reply to someone’s positive opinion of the Beach Boys. The movie was set in the early 1960s, of course, but even though it was made in 1973 or so, the passing of Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper was still a reasonably fresh memory, only 14 years gone. That sounds longish, but this year, 9-11 will be as far in the past. I’m not sure what my point here is, other than to note that memories of events that are history to us were once fresh wounds and became scars, in time.

Anyway, it’s always worth reflecting on the stars that pass before they really got a chance to shine with their full brilliance.

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