OPINION: The day the music died

Forgive me for turning back the clock 57 years, but this is the anniversary of the day Buddy Holly died. For cats and chicks from the 1950s, it remains a day to remember the music.

Terry Woster

Forgive me for turning back the clock 57 years, but this is the anniversary of the day Buddy Holly died. For cats and chicks from the 1950s, it remains a day to remember the music.

Holly and the Crickets were riding the charts and touring the country when the Beechcraft Bonanza carrying him from a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead, Minn., crashed shortly after take-off. Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and pilot Roger Peterson also died in the crash. Holly was 22, Richardson 28, Peterson 21 and Valens just 17.

I had just turned 15, with a brand-new South Dakota driver license (no federally compliant plastic card, just a small piece of paper) folded into a pocket of my wallet. I identified with Buddy Holly, what with the dark-rimmed eyeglasses and the plain, thin face. If that guy could make the girls swoon, maybe I could, too.

I mean, here’s the deal. Ritchie Valens was way too good-looking for words. No teenaged guy in Chamberlain back in those days looked anything at all like Ritchie, much less played and sang the way he did. The Bopper? Well, he had a fun song in “Chantilly Lace’’ and all, but he was kind of old, you know?

Buddy, though, that guy was me - me and every other hopelessly shy teenaged boy with a too-wide mouth, a face full of pimples and a head of hair so oiled up with Brylcreem the stuff melted and ran down the back of his neck when he even came close to a girl. I could imagine being Buddy Holly. In spite of his star power, he seemed like every awkward guy in the world.


Yes, I could dream of being Buddy and having girls in poodle skirts and bobby sox go all dreamy when I did that hiccup thing to the lyrics of a fine rock-’n-roll ballad. I’d ordered an acoustic guitar from Montgomery Ward a year or so earlier, and I’d begun to learn a few chords and songs. Not long after the crash, I ditched the acoustic and ordered a small amplifier and a Silvertone Telecaster-copy electric guitar and started working on Buddy Holly songs and licks. I never became accomplished, but I could sure dream.

Back in those days, we had a thing called Teen Canteen. No idea where the name originated, but when I was in high school, the back room of the Rainbow Café on Main Street hosted the event. It was just an evening of music and dancing, sort of a sock hop. Surely you remember “At the Hop’’ by Danny and the Juniors?

Record players in those days didn’t pump up the volume the way they do today. Even so, with a 45-rpm platter spinning a jitterbug tune like “Rock Around the Clock’’ or a slow-dancing love song like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’’ it was all about the music and the moment, not the volume. Soft music and dim lights were a touch of heaven for my generation.

I like music from the ’60s and early 1970s and anything by the Beatles, the early Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead. But I gotta tell you, there’s nothing for a kid my age like those songs from the 1950s. We were between wars but communists were everywhere. The Russians had just beaten us into space and were threatening to blow up the world with nuclear-warheaded intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Berlin Wall had just gone up. Elvis was in the Army, stationed in Germany, for Pete’s sake.

It was a scary, fraught-with-calamity period in the nation’s history. For a teenager, though, a trip to the record shop to find the latest release by Jerry Lee or Buddy or Bobby Darin or the Platters calmed the most jangled nerves. In spite of the threats, it was somehow a simple time.

Buddy Holly fit the simplicity. He could have been a guy in the crowd at the Rainbow. I suppose that’s one reason I remember this date and that music.

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