It’s that time again when we must reflect on the most tragic day the music industry has ever seen. February 3, 1959.
This is the third year on Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever that I have acknowledged this historical event.
The first year I wrote a basic “paper”, if you will, not unlike something someone might have written for History class.
The next year, 2019, was the 60th Anniversary of the tragedy. I wrote a run-down on its effects on the world in the past six decades.
This year, I wasn’t sure what to do.
I’ve finally decided to make this year’s post a personal commentary, for the most part. I hope you’ll find it relevant enough. However, if you’re looking for more straightforward information on this subject, please see my previous two posts:
Thanks for reading
– Retro Dee
February Makes Me Shiver: It’s tough to be a Holly Fan
February 3rd is a difficult day for a Buddy Holly fan. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t born yet when the Winter Dance Party ’59 tragedy happened. It’s still going to be a tough day for you.
I ought to know.
Behind every chart-topping hit and every smiling photo of Buddy Holly lies a tragic ending, that you can’t re-write. How could such a charmed life end so brutally?
I dread seeing February 3rd come up on the calendar. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the date. I learned about the tragedy when I was about 12 or so, and always found it somewhat haunting. But it wasn’t until I started to become a big fan of Buddy’s that I knew the exact date.
So what about that day gave me the perpetual creeps even before I became an obsessive Buddy Holly fan? Was it because three innocent people took off in a tiny plane on a snowy night never to be seen alive again? Was it because it was an Earth-shattering, tragic event that changed Rock n Roll history forever? Was it because I’m just a tad obsessed with tragedy as a general whole anyway? Looking back, I think it was probably a little of each.
Strangely enough, however, during the rest of the year, I just don’t connect Buddy Holly to the tragedy of February 3, 1959. How can I not connect him with the actual event in which he died? Put simply, I don’t feel that Buddy Holly is truly dead. Metaphorically, in the minds of many of his fans, he never really died. He exists in the music he left behind, in his legacy and in every single one of us who adore and cherish his work.
When I listen to Buddy Holly’s music, I feel the joy of life. I feel a happiness that I never thought possible. Buddy himself was so full of life. You can hear it in everything he did… I forget that he died in a plane crash at a really young age. I forget, I can’t explain it, I just do… even though it was one of the first things I ever heard about him.
Then February 3rd comes. And all the songs sound sad, even the most upbeat ones… I look at the last photos taken of Buddy on the Winter Dance Party ’59 tour and I think “What if…” and “If only…”
It’s painful enough to witness your favorite celebrity die, but it’s another thing to learn about the death of a beloved celebrity retro-actively. It’s strange to mourn someone who died before you were even born, and oddly enough, it doesn’t make it any easier.
I often wonder what the industry – what the World – would have been like with Buddy Holly still in it, or at least if he had been around for many more years than he actually was. What would he have done next, what other masterpieces would he have produced, who would he have become as he matured… and what effect would it have on the Music Industry as a whole?
And what about Ritchie Valens, the teen prodigy who left High School to become a Superstar… Just imagine how much he would have done for Rock n Roll in a longer lifetime, if by age 17 he had already accomplished so much? Would J.P. Richardson have gone from The Big Bopper to Big Time Record Producer? There are so many questions as to what might have been if the music hadn’t died that day.
The Cold, Hard Facts
I’ve never been to Buddy Holly’s grave site. And truly, it’s the only place on Earth I really want to visit. I just can’t seem to get there for numerous personal reasons beyond my control.
The photos of his headstone at the City of Lubbock Cemetery are another indication that his fandom is stronger than ever. I’ve seen all kinds of things on his grave. Other than the usual guitar picks and coins and various floral arrangements, there have been items such as: sunglasses, keychains, a golf ball, the flag of Norway (he was not part Norwegian to the best of my knowledge, so I’m guessing it was left by a Norwegian fan) and most recently, one of those solar panel angels that charges in the sun during the day and turns pretty colors when it gets dark out.
But I think the most touching thing I’ve seen on his grave was a plush spotted leopard cub. It had gotten a little rough sitting out in the weather, but it was still cute. Seeing the picture of that toy at his grave really touched me. I took it as a gentle reminder that Buddy, too, was vulnerable, and had a soft side, like child.
The coroner’s reports for the three stars who died that day are public. You can look them up and read them online. I highly don’t recommend doing this unless you’re able to disconnect your emotions from these kinds of things, and/or you have a sincere fascination with the macabre that allows you to do so. I read them a few years ago, and now I can’t un-read them. They’re graphic. They’re a real wake up call, and as Sting would say, shows how fragile we are.
A Bittersweet Celebration
With all the sadness surrounding that tragic day, sometimes I just can’t wait for it to go by. Sometimes I can’t hear the music over all the “what ifs” and “if onlys”… I want it to all just go away so I can hear Buddy again.
But there’s a silver lining to each February 3rd, and that is the love that the world has shown to our lost stars. From radio stations to TV documentaries, tributes and homages have been paid to Buddy, Ritchie and J.P. for decades.
The biggest and most famous tribute, however, is held annually at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA where Buddy, Ritchie and J.P. had their last show. The Surf has been the site for the annual Winter Dance Party since 1979.
Winter Dance Party is not just a party, but a way to educate the public and preserve music history for generations to come.
It fills my heart with a special kind of happiness when I see projects like The Surf Speaks run by twin sisters Sherry and Sheryl Davis continue the legacy to honor the three fallen stars.
In addition, Mason City, IA continues to educate its youngsters about the importance of Rock n Roll History so that it will never be forgotten. As a chapter of history etched into the hearts and minds of future generations we know that our heroes did not die in vain.
It is that outpour of love that comes around each February 3rd, that makes the music begin to sound sweet again. And although the sadness will never be completely washed away, we know that each of us has honored the three fallen stars in our own way.
Another Year Goes By
Another year comes and goes. I light candles, listen to tributes, but it doesn’t get any easier.
I enjoy being Buddy’s fan and am proud to know what I’ve learned about him and the gift he’s given the world.
I look at photos of Ritchie Valens being surrounded by fans and smile. I dance to “Chantilly Lace” and imagine the joy of what the 1950’s era must have been like.
But February makes me shiver, like Don McLean says in the famous song.
And when February ends, I come away from this bleak time of the year with even more immense love, pride and appreciation for the Three Stars who died in 1959.
And when it comes back around on the calendar, I dread it all over again.
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