Buddy Holly: Rave on, It’s a Crazy Feeling
Okay, fellow boomers and boomettes, here’s one for you: We all know you remember exactly where you were when Kennedy got shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series, when Nixon resigned, when Elvis died or any of those dozens of frozen-in-time moments. But how many of you recall where you were when you heard that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens had been killed in a plane crash?
I’m sure most of you late-50ish and older types have some recollection, and many of you younger whippersnappers know the story, if only from The Buddy Holly Story starring Gary Busey (which bore almost no resemblance to reality but was still a good movie). But I’ve always had a fascination with all the myths that have grown up around that sad episode and the huge impact Holly (who spelled his surname Holley until the record label misspelled it on his first contract) had on the formative years of rock ‘n’ roll.
This near-obsession I’ve had with Buddy Holly no doubt had something to do with my innate love of music and the fact that when you’re 12 years old, music really matters. It was important that I know the lyrics to “Peggy Sue” and “At The Hop” and “Stagger Lee” and especially “Louie Louie.” It was important that I make it home from school in time to see “American Bandstand.” It was important that I be allowed to grow my hair long enough for a ducktail. When asked over the years what I wanted to be when I was a kid, my standard reply has always been, “Buddy Holly or Stan Musial and I didn’t care which one.”
Perhaps, though, with the benefit of 15,000 sunrises and sunsets, the real reason that day remains so vividly imprinted is that it was my first exposure to the finality of death.
I got up at 5 a.m. that morning, Feb. 4, 1959, hopped on my bike and pedaled to the newspaper office, stopping off on the way to buy two still-warm, freshly dipped doughnuts and a pint of chocolate milk from the Do-nut Dinette. As always, I would chow down while I rolled my papers, a dozen or so paperboys standing around yukking it up before our appointed rounds making sure everybody in Burlington got their copy of the Greensboro Daily News. Usually I would take a cursory glance at the front page before folding it over to the sports section and digest the scores along with my sugar-laden breakfast.
But on this day, I didn’t even make it to the B section. There it was, below the fold on A1, the headline telling every 12-year-old kid in America that three of our heroes had died. In trying to recapture the emotion I felt at that moment, disbelief comes to mind, followed by numbness, anger and acceptance – what I now know as the stages of grief. I do remember wanting to get to school early that day, since all the guys would be talking about it on the playground, having some inherent sense that commiserating somehow eases the pain, which again I now know to be true.
But when you’re 12 and you’ve been listening to “That’ll Be The Day” and “Chantilly Lace” and “Oh, Donna” in constant rotation on WKIX and WCOG, all you can think about is how can people be on the radio and “Ed Sullivan” and “Bandstand” one day and dead the next? None of it made any sense. Call it the loss of innocence; call it, as Don McLean did, “the day the music died”; call it a rude yet necessary awakening, but all I can remember is a sense of aloneness. As I threw out my papers that morning, hitting most porches and missing a few, it was as if I were going through the motions of life, a surreal experience before I even knew what the word meant.
Next year at exactly this time, you will be reading numerous accounts similar to this one, as it will mark the 50th anniversary of that fateful concert in Clear Lake, Iowa that turned out to be the last stop on the Winter Dance Party tour. The mythology will resurface on exactly who lost the coin-flip to whom and how the course of American music was altered as a result. And I’ll be looking back at my own history, grateful that that 12-year-old kid from Burlington got to grow up and live out his dreams. No, he didn’t get to be Stan Musial, but for a good seven years in the band Newground, he got to travel back to his youth and perform a medley of Holly tunes as… Little Buddy Ogi.
And lived to rave on about it.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.