On the Road to Somewhere Else

It was early morning 59 years ago today when a small airplane crashed in a lonely, snow covered farmers field near Clear Lake, Iowa. Its story is rich in lore, consequence and unnerving circumstance.

A future country music legend, then just a bass player, gave up his seat to one of those who perished. Another band member would lose a coin toss for his seat. Both would be shaken by those events for the rest of their lives.

Today, travelers on the road to somewhere else, stop at the cornfield to pay homage to the first stars of a new genre of music, and to the memory of the youthful dreams of an entire generation. Nothing much has changed there except for a stainless steel memorial placed in tribute. It marks the spot, where Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richie Valens were killed, on the day the music died.

A 13-year old paperboy went to school the next morning “in shock,” and recalled, “nobody cared. Rock ‘n Roll in those days was sort of like hula hoops and Buddy hadn’t had a big hit on the charts since 57.

12 years later as a “mystical trip into [his] past” the memory of that day would be inspiration for a song the paperboy would write. Recorded in the early spring and released in November 1971 it would become one of the greatest songs ever written.

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame the Recording Industry of America chose Don McLean’s American Pie as the fifth greatest song of the 20th Century.

McLean called his song a complicated parable, open to different interpretations. “People ask me if I left the lyrics open to ambiguity. Of course I did. I wanted to make a whole series of complex statements. The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time… a loss of innocence.”

It doesn’t takes much. All one has to hear are those first five words: A long, long, time ago and those of my generation, and generations since, are filled with not only the memories of days gone by, but feel a similar sense of loss. Don McLean’s cultural anthem assures us the memory of those young shooting stars, whose lives ended on that isolated field so long ago — and all they remind us of — will never, ever die.


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