The Day the Music Died
"I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride..."
- Don McLean, "American Pie"
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic plane crash which is now universally known - in Don McLean's famous words - as simply "The Day The Music Died". Hard to imagine it's been half a century since Rock and Roll lost one of its genuine pioneers, Buddy Holly, as well as two other young and rising stars, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens.
In other ways, 1959 was a watershed - or perhaps a low water mark would be a better term - in the history of Rock and Roll. Three other key stars who defined the early Rock era also fell quiescent during, or shortly before, that same year: Elvis Presley (army service), Jerry Lee Lewis (banned), and Little Richard (found religion). Perhaps along with the tragedy of Holly's loss, all these coinciding events truly must have made it seem like Rock and Roll was to perish, as it had been born, with the decade. Yet just a few years later, the genre was experiencing unprecedented growth and revivification, courtesy of a multiplicity of distinct, yet overlapping new movements - the British Invasion, Psychedelic, Progressive Rock, Folk Rock, etc.
There have been other such turning points, other periods of ebb when an accumulation of losses or artistic breakups seemed to spell doom for the future of "Rock as we know it". I recently noted 1970 (extending to early 1971) as one such epoch, when in a short span, both the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel split up, while era-defining superstars Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin all passed away. Once again, it might have seemed to some that Rock was doomed to fade away with the change in decades. Yet in retrospect (and despite how most pop "music" sounded when the 1970s ended), the early years of that decade also saw many acts who would carry Rock forward. This included bridging supergroups from the 60s such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, new, incredibly talented and prolific solo artists like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and of course, bands too numerous to list who ushered in new musical genres such as Heavy Metal and Arena Rock.
Which brings us to the here and now. I freely admit that I know too little about today's music, and like too little of what I hear. But I also know myself far too well, to simply blame this on the relative lack of talent and/or dedication of today's pop performers - as defensible as such accusations might be. As in many other areas of my life, I'm a bit stuck in my musical comfort zone, tending to stay mostly with the tried and true "Classic Rock" of the mid 60s through mid 80s that I know so well. Yet I'm sure that somewhere out there, there are gifted new performers ready to usher in new and exciting musical eras. So I'll try to keep my ears at least somewhat open - maybe even let my children be my guides here!
After all, despite today's anniversary, we have also been assured (since even before that tragic date) that Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay!
RIP, Buddy, J.P., and Ritchie... and Long Live Rock.