It’s hard to believe that today, February 3, 2009, is the 50th anniversary of the plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens (“La Bamba,” “Donna,” “Let’s Go!”), J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”) and pilot Ron Peterson. Better known as the day the music died.
It is hard to believe because it doesn’t seem like Buddy has ever gone away — at least for me. I’m not nearly old enough to have actually known Holly but I feel like he’s always been a part of me. He was an outsider, a skinny, geeky kid with glasses, just like me. His songs were always around. They would play from my mother’s radio that was permanently tuned to an oldies station. They were used in movies, commercials and at times, were the soundtrack to what was going on inside my head.
Buddy’s music is timeless. His songs — “ Peggy Sue”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “True Love Ways” and “Rave On” to name just a few — have influenced the creation of countless bands. Without Buddy, the world may not have ever seen the likes of The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Nada Surf, The Ramones, The Kinks, The Stray Cats, Matthew Sweet or many others that have hold key places on rock’s family tree. Not to mention the thousands of garage bands that began because of the kid from Lubbock, Texas.
Thousands are flocking to the little town of Clear Lake, Iowa, to visit The Surf Ballroom where Buddy, Richie and J.P. played their last show as part of The Winter dance Party Tour, and to the lonely cornfield outside of town where those short lives ended on that cold night.
If you can’t make it to Iowa to pay your respects, put a record on, don’t say anything and listen to “That’ll Be They Day”. We miss you Buddy, we love what you gave to the world and the giant shadow on the history of rock ‘n’ roll will never fade away.
I made my own pilgrimage to The Surf ballroom a few years ago — you can read about my journey here.