I went to our local Liberty Center last night with a group of BPW ladies to watch the Buddy Holly Story. The day that he, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in an airplane that took off in a snow storm from Clear Lake, Iowa, is referred to as the “day the music died”. The play begins with a man, hat pulled low, playing an acoustic guitar and singing about the day the music died. Buddy Holly takes the stage and plays a Fender guitar that immediately reminds me of Jim’s 1952 Fender Telecaster. In a scene I found particularly poignant, Buddy picks up a guitar and sings a song just for his wife.
Unless you have been personally serenaded, you do not understand the intimacy of a song meant just for you. Certain songs Jim played were always meant for me regardless of how many people were in the room. Some of the special songs were Buck Owens’s version of “Cinderella” and Elvis Presley’s “Tender Feelings.” These songs expressed Jim’s own philosophy and capacity to love. He would strum his guitar and sing, “There wasn’t any palace and you weren’t a queen, In your faded cotton dresses anyone could see…but you’re still Cinderella to me.” Another Elvis song he sang for me was, “Come take what I offer you, and kiss me tenderly, and you will be forever young, and beautiful, to me.”
I don’t remember the last time Jim sang a special song for me. I don’t remember the date or the year. He lost his songs one-by-one but I remember one June day in 1999, he picked up his Fender Telecaster and played Buckaroo without a flaw. Jim’s music didn’t die in one tragic day—it faded away over ten years.
When I watched the play last night, I was reminded of Jim saying, “Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the plane, but he gave up his seat to Ritchie Valens.” When you think about the talented people killed on that plane, you can’t help but feel a sense of loss. How high would those young and upcoming stars have risen with their careers?
In a sense, the singers killed February 2, 1959, have been immortalized in movies, plays, and with their recordings. They died, but their music didn’t—only the music that could have been.
The show symbolizes loss, with the man returning to the stage, hat pulled low as he sings about the day the music died. The lights go low and Bart Kuhns as Buddy Holly returns to the stage to sing a rousing rendition of “Johnny B. Good”. The show ends with the audience on their feet, clapping and smiling.
That’s the way life should be. Instead of crying over what could have been, we need to rejoice in the music that lives in our hearts. The music only dies when we let it.