Oh no! Not the Big Bopper, too!

Where were you the day the music died? That was a question asked many years ago (and far too often, in the esteem of some, like my wife) by folkie Don MacLean, who has actually gone on record as stating that he has come to detest American Pie as much as Wendy does. Familiarity can breed tedium, I’ll admit.

I remember precisely where I was. I was riding a big green and cream Pacific Stage Lines bus from the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby to New Westminster on that February 3rd for an appointment with my hack butcher of a dentist – I still suffer from his shoddy craftsmanship (curse him), but that is another matter. 

I had taken a seat on the bus next to a girl I knew from my school homeroom. As I seated myself, I noticed that her face was a mask of grief. Oh, maybe that is excessive, but she did look disquieted.

“Did you hear that Buddy Holly was killed?” she enquired. “And Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper!”

“Not the Big Bopper!” I exclaimed, cursed with an inability to predict future icon status for budding martyrs. “Then, this must be the day the music dies!”

“Right on,” she said. No she didn’t People weren’t to say ‘right on’ for at least another decade. So, I don’t remember exactly what she said. Indeed, I suspect that none of the foregoing conversation actually took place, at least in the manner it has been presented. He who reminisces has the right to present things as he just might recall them and you have no ability to deduce whether or not it’s a lie. That’s power. But, it is indeed true that a girl from my class did tell me about Buddy Holly and those two other guys. Wonder whatever happened to that girl. I won’t mention her name on the offchance she might read this and promptly write to say that isn’t the way it happened at all.

All of that stuff notwithstanding, last week marked the anniversary of that tragic rock-and-roll demise and unlike so many later practitioners of the musical genre, those three talented chaps had no control over their fate. Weather, an inexperienced pilot and just sheer bad luck were to blame. 

At the same time, I do confess that I actually remember Buddy Holly from before he was dead. I saw him once on Ed Sullivan, and I was well-pleased. Pleased not only because I thought he was a fine practitioner of the rock genre, but also because he wore glasses. 

Few were the bespectacled teen heroes in those days, so a lot of pathetic four-eyed kids (like I was) were lying in wait for a Buddy Holly to appear on the scene. He only stayed for a short time, but it was enough to break the glasses-equal-nerd equation forever. 

I’d had my glasses imposed on me when I was in the fourth grade. They were to correct some sort of muscle deficiency that led to, in the succinct ophthalmologic terminology of the day, a “lazy eye.” Mainly, if I hadn’t had corrective lenses, I would have ended up cross-eyed, which may have worked for silent flick comic actor Ben Turpin, and one-time sexy actress, Karen Black, but would have done diddly for my self-esteem, not to mention visual acumen.

I was spec clad from fourth grade until my twenties. Then, blessedly, I was able to chuck them and enjoy a brief hiatus from enhancement until I needed reading glasses at around forty. Today, I just wear my readers. Otherwise, I don’t wear glasses. 

But, my point is, I had to go through the bulk of my school days as a ‘four-eyes’, and kids are never kind or diplomatic about pointing out flaws they might see in another. My personal flaw they saw in my glasses. 

Then Buddy Holly changed all those preconceptions. So, I begged and pleaded to get such spectacles as Buddy wore. On this rare occasion, pity was taken on me, and I was able to get them. My life changed. Not instantly, but it did change. I grew taller, my voice changed, and I got the same eyewear as that martyred boy from Lubbock, Texas. Some friends were even driven to suggest, when I first sported my nifty black frames, that I even looked a bit like Buddy Holly – albeit alive.

For, one February day his little plane cracked up in an Iowa snowstorm, and he became an instant cult-figure, and even the clear-of-seeing saw a certain mystique in the specs, and they ultimately became his symbol, even more than his guitar.

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8 responses to “Oh no! Not the Big Bopper, too!

  1. You wore “Buddy Holly” glasses? Wow. I’m sure you looked very cool in them. It must have been a sad day when the music world lost so much talent in the twinkle of an eye.

  2. What year did it happen? I doubt if I was alive yet since the spectacles icon for me was Elvis Costello. (I don’t often get to feel young so I’m taking full advantage. Thanks, Ian. :))

  3. It happened in 1959, Andrea. And now it makes me feel intolerably old. Actually, the one I thought looked very cool in glasses a few years later was Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in the Ipcress File, one of the best cinematic spy yarns of all time.

  4. I saw The Ipcress File the other day on TV. Good movie but then Caine is cool in anything…

  5. Yes, they are very distinctive glasses, but Buddy made them look cool.

  6. Like everyone I know about Buddy Holly, but I’m not sure I’d ever actually seen a picture of him… He had a very pretty mouth didn’t he?

  7. John Lennon did the same for wire government issued specs later. Such plane crashes are always ironic – Holly chartered the plane for himself and his band because he was sick of tour buses, and Richardson and Valens were not supposed to be on it. Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson, who was ill. Ritchie Valens was only 17. (And I like “American Pie.”)

  8. Susan: I too like American Pie and sometimes I’ll put it on just to bug Wendy. Re your reference to Waylon Jennings. He said in an interview he has never quite gotten over a sense of gult about that awful plane crash.

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