Not Fade Away


buddyhollycrahFifty years ago, the “music died” in an Iowa cornfield.  Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their plane went down outside Clear Lake, Iowa.  In those early kinescope days of rock ‘n’ roll, each was a pioneer.  Ritchie Valens broke ethnic barriers, adapting a Mexican standard and making it a hit on the white-dominated pop charts.  The Big Bopper coined the term “music video” to describe his filmed take of Chantilly Lace.  While the singers were silenced that night in 1959, in death they were also trailblazers.

They were the first in a long line of tragic heroes stretching from Eddie Cochran to Kurt Cobain.  In death, we remember the brilliant sparks of creativity wrought from the work they managed to accomplish in their all-too-short time on Earth.  The concept of unfinished business is a romantic one.  Its potential is only limited by the imagination of their fans.  Buddy Holly is seen as the father of what musicians put into place in the decades that followed.  What-if scenarios combine his talents with those he inspired: Brian Wilson, Keith Richards, Lennon and McCartney.  No one ever seems to think he might have failed later in life, his next records might have flopped or those he inspired might have ended his career as surely the sixties legends overshadowed almost all of the surviving pioneers from the fifties.

The music industry is not kind to pop stars who age.  Their voices cannot reach the notes they once did.  Their prolific songwriting dwindles to a thin trickle.  Impassioned lyrics turn brittle and trite.  There is little interest in new releases by classic artists.  They are upstaged by their own earlier iterations.  We have seen the best minds of those generations – not go mad as Allen Ginsburg dreamed, but rather following the footsteps of General Douglas MacArthur when he said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  But for Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens, they will always be as we remember them, permanently playing in hi-fi and televised in glorious black and white.

buddy-holly_arms-folded“I’m gonna tell ya how its gonna be.
You’re gonna give your love to me.
Love to last more than one day.
Love is love and not fade away.
Love is love and not fade away…”

— Charles Hardin Holley (1936 – 1959)

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One comment

  1. I was a freshman in high school and eating lunch in the cafeteria, when out of the P.A. system, which was tuned into the radio news, came the announcement that Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper were all dead. They began playing songs by the three artists for the rest of the day in tribute. The first one played after the announcement was “Donna”–a song Ritchie Valens had written for his girlfriend. The cafeteria was usually noisy with things like spitballs and other missiles frequently flying through the air, as well as the occasional food fight among the freshmen and sophomores. After the announcement, however, all the 13 and 14 year olds were quiet, many of the girls crying quiet tears. It’s true that when tragedy strikes, you always remember details about exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard about it. I vividly remember what I was doing on 9/11/2001; I remember what I was doing when President Kennedy was assassinated; and I remember everything I was doing on “the day the music died.”

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