"The Day the Music Died" may or may not be a phrase you've heard before.
It's used to describe the day that three huge rock music pioneers died in a plane crash. Most of us know that Buddy Holly died in this crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959, but two other rock pioneers died that night too, JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Richie Valens, along with the pilot.
I wasn't around back then so I can only imagine the shock that young people felt when three big rock stars all died in one night. Probably about how people felt a few years ago when Michael Jackson died. I think the big difference is Michael Jackson was older, had already peaked and had gotten weird and addicted in his later life.
These three were young and growing and vibrant and I can't imagine the shock. But it still resonates almost 60 years later. The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake is where they did their last show.
I asked and it's exactly the same as it was in 1959. The only difference is they've extended the stage out into the audience but other than that, the floors, booths and layout is exactly the same.
Even the original payphone that Buddy Holly used to call his wife is still there in a sealed-off phone booth.
This would have been Buddy Holly's view from the stage. Can't you just picture all the young people there that night?
The story goes that the artists on this tour were travelling in an old bus with a heater that didn't work. It was February and it was cold, so Buddy Holly rented a plane to fly him and two other artists to their next stop in Fargo. That way they'd be there in a couple of hours, instead of taking a freezing, overnight bus ride.
They took off into a snowstorm and as a pilot, I can tell you what happened. If a pilot loses reference to the ground or the horizon, he gets "spatial disorientation" where you can't tell which was is up or down or sideways. You can't see anything outside the plane to tell you how to right the plane. Yes, you have instruments in the plane, but with some pilots, your inner ear is so strongly telling you something different than what the instruments show you, that you go with your own feelings, head down when you should head up, or bank when you should go straight, and you crash.
That's what happened to JFK Jr. It's actually fairly common with small airplane pilots.
They crashed only a couple miles after they took off and they all died.
Interesting footnote: There was speculation about how a gun was found in the wreckage, and that maybe someone on the plane killed the pilot and made it crash. Or that JP Richardson and another victim had initially survived the crash and that the other person shot JP as he tried to crawl away from him. JP's son had his body exhumed a few years ago and the medical examiner verified that every bone in JP's body was crushed, and there was no way he could have survived the crash, much less, tried to crawl away from it.
Don't you love rumors and conspiracy theories?
I don't remember this era either. I don't know more than one or two Buddy Holly songs. But this place is still really interesting and cool to see, if "cool" is the right word. Worth a trip next time you're on your way through Iowa. Oh, and it's free to get in. Just make sure you leave a generous donation on the table inside.