All the best ideas come to me when I’m driving or otherwise unable to stop and write them down. This ran through my head stream-of-consciousness style when I was listening to the radio while driving home from work yesterday….
I’ve always been fascinated with the 1970s. And the 1960s. And the 1950s. And on and on. I’m fascinated with the different cultural atmospheres, the music, the television, the politics. The current events. The way it must have felt to be alive at that time. I become obsessed with songs and ideas and people from the past. I want to understand those times even though I was not around to experience them. I am thoroughly disappointed that we have not reached the age of time travel yet.
On February 3, 1959, a small plane crashed in a cornfield in Iowa. All four passengers aboard the plane sadly perished. This included the pilot and three gentlemen: J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley, three of the most popular music acts of the late 1950s.
The music died that day for a 13 year-old paperboy in a small town in New York.
Don McLean is probably best known for his incredibly long, catchy and sometimes annoying song “American Pie” that debuted on America’s airwaves back in 1971. The chorus used to drive me crazy. And at eight and a half minutes, it was so damn long. But I eventually found that in between the jangly chorus repetitions were a treasure of memories and cultural impressions.
As a young teenager in 1959, Mr. McLean had opened a stack of his delivery papers the morning after the crash and was shocked by the headline. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan and the singer’s death at the early age of 22 was difficult to swallow. Twelve years later, he wrote a song about it and how it affected him.
But the song wasn’t just about the death of Buddy Holly. It was about the change that occurred over the course of the next decade. How the innocence of the 1950s faded into the chaos of the 1960s. His own impressions of what happened, written as unconfirmed characters in rambling, disjointed story throughout the song. These characters included a king (Elvis), a jester (Bob Dylan), a quartet (the Beatles), birds (the Byrds), football players (protestors), Jack Flash (Mick Jagger), and a girl who sang the blues (Janis Joplin).
I listen and I lament that I missed all of this. I feel like I should have been there.
But I can feel it. I can feel the loss and nostalgia through his words. Though I will never know what that was really like to be there.
My daughter is getting older. She’s almost twelve and a lot of the formerly taboo topics are becoming necessary things to talk about. She read a book about the Underground Railroad this summer for her summer reading program and we had many frank conversations about the history of racism in our country. Although I wasn’t there, I could relay the facts that I knew. We stood on the shore of Lake Erie last week and I told her about the environmental disasters that lead to the lake catching on fire 40 years ago. Again, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t around to hear about it on the news or worry about it. I simply know it happened and relayed that information to her.
I like to think I know a decent amount of history, mostly because I find it interesting and we tend to remember what we find interesting. So I can tell my daughter about the War of 1812. Or about the Great Depression. In a matter of fact kind of way. Not in a really affected way. I can remember my mother telling me about the day Kennedy was assassinated. And it was more than just facts. It was how her teacher broke down and cried in front of the class. How numb and unsafe she felt when she walked home from school that day. The mood that settled over the whole country. Not just what happened.
I’m probably too young to be the know-it-all that I think I am. Not in any profound way.
Thanks for reading.