The whole “The Day The Music Died” mythology is a crackpot idea of rock history. Buddy Holly died for somebody’s sins, but not to become a symbol of rock & roll youth cut down in its prime and left to wander aimlessly in some netherworld limbo for five years until being resurrected when the moptops arrived at JFK. Don McLean’s cornball thesis is accepted as truth in some quarters, and although I’m a believer in the achievements, ambitions and potential of Buddy Holly and devour every scrap of music he ever recorded, including random song doodles he sketched in his apartment, I can’t subscribe to the notion that when his plane went down the dreams of the first rock generation died with him. I mean, Dion and The Belmonts were on that tour also, and lived to soldier on into the 1960s, and Waylon Jennings might have hopped on that doomed aircraft, and that’s only a few people who were in the actual vicinity. What about Sam Cooke, on the brink of inventing Soul As We Know It, and Leiber & Stoller, and Phil Spector and Allen Toussaint? Del Shannon, Gary U.S. Bonds and The Shirelles? The Beach Boys, for that matter, and The Four Seasons? If I wanted to, I could fill this entire post with the names of artists, writers, producers and musicians who were still on the planet after 2/3/59, still making “The Music” (and what is with “The Music,” anyway? does it include jazz, and country and Sinatra and so on, or does McLean’s Music only include the snap of The Crickets, the Latino-garage-R&B of Ritchie Valens, and the one-shot novelty tune of The Big Bopper?).
Buddy Holly’s fatal winter voyage was a devastating blow to rock & roll, certainly, and you could argue that his loss made it easier for boys like Frankie Avalon to get in the door, and no one would say that’s a good thing. I do like Bobby Vee, but I can see why rock historians point to him and say: see, that’s what happens when a vacuum is created; the understudy steps in, and it’s not the same. I might counter that with: ok, fine, but on The Beatles’ audition tape for Decca, they did Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby” along with Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” (and “Searchin’” and “Three Cool Cats” by Leiber & Stoller, and “To Know Him Is To Love Him” by Spector, and “Money” by Berry Gordy). A good song is a good song, and if Lennon & McCartney could bow in the direction of Bobby Vee through Goffin & King, who am I to call them dupes? I don’t know this for sure, but I kind of suspect that The Beatles didn’t see their mission as bringing rock and roll back from the dead, but as coming up with hit songs like Gerry Goffin and Carole King and the other writers who wrote for The Shirelles (there are two Shirelles covers on their debut album).
Read enough Rock History, and you’ll get the McLean Theory scribbled ad nauseam. Even if the expiration date varies (not everyone agrees that Feb. 3, 1959 was The Day The Music Died: some say it was when Elvis Presley was inducted into the Armed Forces, some when Chuck Berry got sent to the slammer, some when Little Richard found God, some when Jerry Lee Lewis got hitched to his child bride…pick your moment), it’s standard practice to pronounce The Music moribund for that half-decade before John, Paul, George and Ringo gave it CPR. I’m not one to minimize the excitement of the British Invasion. That week in February 1964 when The Rutles — I mean, The Beatles — captivated America was the beginning of a massive cultural youthquake, and just wait until a year from now when it’s the 50th Anniversary and you won’t be able to turn on your TV without seeing them land at the airport, sing “All My Lovin’” on the Sullivan show, twist with Murray The K at the Peppermint Lounge. The Beatles changed my life, for sure, and so, in a different way, did the late, great Buddy Holly (he was already late and great by the time I started buying records, but I do have a bunch of his original Coral and Brunswick 45’s). I just don’t think it diminishes their glow one bit to acknowledge that in those intervening years, rock and roll wasn’t dead: “Runaround Sue,” “Quarter To Three,” “Twist and Shout,” “Runaway,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Shut Down,” “Baby Workout,” “Da Doo Ron Ron”…should I go on?