Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Day The Music Died

Our Town downtown
October 16, 2006

When the sketchy report of a small unidentified plane crashing into an Upper East Side apartment building eventually clarified into the death of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle, I thought about kids who were coming home from school that afternoon and hearing the news. Here's why my thoughts went that way.

On February 3, 1959 I'm a 12-year-old kid at home alone. I've either got the Asian flu that's going around or I'm faking some sickness to get out of school that day. My mother's gone down to Main Street in our rural town to get me some lemon sherbet and maybe some sports magazines to keep me occupied. There is no TV on during the day for kids then and she feels bad for me lying there in my pajamas with nothing to do but thumb through old baseball magazines that I had saved in a high stack in the nightstand next my bed.

On the top of the nightstand is a gray plastic GE radio that I had on constantly whenever I was in bed. I'd fall asleep at night to the sounds of baseball and basketball games that I could find then on stations from places like St. Louis or Pittsburgh and on real clear nights I could get Chicago. New York City stations were hard to find from my room in my remote small town west of the Finger Lakes. But I could hear the Yankees on local stations and I followed the exploits of my favorite player Gil McDougald. I kept a scrapbook on him and wore his #12 all through Little League.

In the mornings and after school on rainy days and in the evenings when I was supposed to be studying spelling words or doing a page in my math workbook I listened to a music station. I liked Jackie Wilson and Bobby Darin best. I knew a lot of songs that were popular because my four-year-older sister watched American Bandstand and she and her girlfriends drooled over Elvis and Fabian and Frankie Avalon who they listened to on her record player with the thick spindle that held stacks of 45s.

So, while my mother is gone in search of some treats for me, I lie there and listen to tunes, waiting to hear Ray Charles or the Everly Brothers, mostly wanting to hear Lonely Teardrops or Sea Cruise or La Bamba. I imagine being a teenager and hanging out like the big kids do in Homer Schafer's Candy Kitchen on Main Street with its shiny rainbow-lighted jukebox.

At some point while I'm alone in my reverie, the disc jockey interrupts a song and tells about a plane crash way out in Iowa. He says Buddy Holly was on the plane and so was Richie Valens and the Big Bopper and he says they're reported to be dead. I first think of my older sister who's away at a Catholic boarding school. I think of her and her friends the previous summer in a cottage we had rented and I see them putting a Buddy Holly record they'd just bought on the record player and singing along to it. I wonder if she had heard. Then I think of my buddies across the street at St. Joe's grade school and I want to tell them that the Big Bopper died in a plane crash, and Richie Valens. And Buddy Holly. I want school to be out so I can call them. I have never had such news to tell.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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