At 1:05 in the morning today, a crowd of fans stood on the Holly crash site - still a working farm field - and sang American Pie.
At the same time in Milwaukee, in an equally corny move, yours truly put on my coat and stepped onto my front porch. I raised a drink to the northwest sky, took a pull, and then poured a little to the ground. I said a quick prayer, wished their spirits well, and darted inside.
Yes, it was silly. Sue me.
I watched some of the events online from the Surf Ballroom, and I was mighty nervous when word came that the rumor mill said Clapton, Springsteen, Dylan, or McCartney would show. It would've been hard to swallow missing them, but in the end it was just empty rumor. Plenty of name acts showed, but no upper-tier superstars.
If you have a mind to, check out the Des Moines Register's spectacular barrage of coverage of the anniversary. There are interviews with personalities related to the crash, video of the event, official documents related to the crash, dowloadable posters, music and more. It is MIGHTY impressive.
I learned several things I hadn't known. Plane owner Jerry Dwyer was sued for 1.5 million (a huge sum in 1959) by Ritchie Valens mom but won the case. In fear of future lawsuits he kept the wreckage, and he still has the plane in storage somewhere. My God what a coup for a museum if he'd ever release it!
Dwyer came off as a bit of a conspiracy nut in his interview. He wouldn't discuss some things, mentioned cryptic 'truths' he knows but won't tell, etc. I get the impression that even 50 years later he's still trying to absolve his conscience. I can only assume the 'truth' he hinted at is the ridiculous notion that the pilot was shot in a scuffle aboard the plane. It's been refuted a million times, but America loves a conspiracy.
Sadly the Big Bopper's son, who wasn't born until two months after the crash, bought into some of those rumours and had his father exhumed two years ago. There's a very thorough article on the Des Moines site by the forensic scientist who did the deed. The Bopper was not shot, nor did he try to crawl away to safety. His body structure was destroyed by the impact, a fact hidden by what the article's author called stunning work by the undertaker. His face and haircut were instantly recognizable even after 48 years in the ground - this despite the fact that there were no bones left to hold up the face. He was given a new casket and reburied.
Get this: despite the fact that the original coffin carried an odor so bad the funeral home would not allow it inside during the exhumation, the casket is being PUT UP FOR SALE ON EBAY by the Bopper's son. I . . don't understand the thought process behind that.
The coroner's reports on the bodies revealed some gruesome truths, including massive damage to Valen's head. I won't go into it here, but all the reports are fascinating reading.
They've finally gotten around to putting a maker at the crash site honoring the pilot. About time.
Something I did know but had forgotten: Waylong Jennings last words to Buddy after the concert was a mocking 'Well I hope your old plane crashes'. Those words, spoken innocently, would haunt Jennings for years and escalate his addictions.
Anyway, check out the site, and be prepared for a slew of music posts here today.