This morning when I woke up, the radio station I usually listen to (CBC Radio 2), told me that today was a tragic day in music. February 3rd, 1959 was the day that the music died.
I remember as a kid listening to Don McLean’s song “American Pie”, and only knowing that is seemed like a sad song. It wasn’t until much later that I heard of Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly. It wouldn’t be until I was an adult that I realized how terrible it was that these men, all young, with great potential ahead of them, died in a field in Iowa.
The Big Bopper, aka Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson Jr., was made big by his catchy hit “Chantilly Lace”, the only song I can probably sing without having to listen to the song at the same time. But there are other songs he wrote and recorded, like George Jones’ hit “White Lightning”, and “Running Bear”, a number one hit for Johnny Preston. In his native Texas, he was hit DJ, creating his name “The Big Bopper” for Beaumont radio station KTRM (now KZZB). He once spent five days, two hours and eight minutes on the air, continuously to break a record! He’s also credited with creating the first music video of himself back in 1958. If he hadn’t died in that plane crash, he may have become a bigger hit musically, or, if he returned as a DJ, he could have become as big as Wolfman Jack became.
Ritchie Valens was another. His recording career didn’t even last a year, but he influenced so many with songs like “La Bamba” and “Donna”. He helped bring Hispanic and Mexican flavor to popular music. If he hadn’t died, he might have been the first Carlos Santana, using his unsung skills with the guitar that he learned how to play, right-handed, when he was left-handed.
Buddy Holly was, in my mind, the greatest loss on that day. Besides becoming a huge success, he was beginning to tinker around in the studio, creating multiple tracks, and adding more to a song than had been added before. He had the potential to become a legendary producer. His influence could have been greater and stretched beyond the Beatles, far into the 70’s and 80’s. Imagine that; a Beatles record, produced by Buddy Holly.
As I was thinking about “the Day the Music Died”, I read a tweet from comic book writer Mark Miller about comic book creators that have influenced readers and creators. The first thought that came to mind was Dwayne McDuffie.
For those who don’t know, Dwayne McDuffie was a writer for Marvel and DC comics. Others might know him best from his work on the animated TV series “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited”. But his greatest work was helping create Milestone Media. It was here that ethnic superheroes were created.
But my memory of him has nothing to do with ethnicity. Years ago, when I was trying to figure out how to best utilize my comic book-inspired creations, I sent a cold email to Mr. McDuffie, asking for his advice. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a response. He was a well-known comic book writer and creator and no doubt a busy guy. Yet, he emailed back, and asked for my phone number, saying that he would call and talk to me. I was kinda surprised at his offer, so I emailed him back with my phone number. To my shock, he called! Our conversation wasn’t long, but he advised me on how I could use the internet to establish my characters, and just told me to keep at it. He also joked that if I did become a success, to not forget him.
To say I was blown away would be an understatement. I never forgot that call, or him, and I never will. For someone of his stature to take the time to actually call and talk to a nobody truly says something about the kind of guy he was. I only wish that I had the chance to meet him in person, whether at a convention or, if luck would have it, working in the industry.
There have been others that I have looked back on with sadness that they were taken too soon.
Heath Ledger never got to see how incredible his performance of the Joker was, and how he could make us all forget Jack Nicholson’s version.
Aaliyah was known more for being a singer. But in “Romeo Must Die”, she showed she had potential as an actress as well.
But one of the most frustrating of all is when Roy Orbison passed away. He had a great run, being quite popular for many years. But when he joined the Traveling Wilburys, and released a new album around the same time, he was introduced to a whole new generation of music lovers, myself included. He had a voice that could knock you over and make your cry. He wore black with a style that rivaled Johnny Cash. He was a legend that was returning to his rightful place when he was taken away.
We all know to appreciate the people in our lives because we never know when they will be taken from us. But that can also be said for those out in the world that affect us, creatively. In their time, they can inspire us to greater things than we thought, remind us that when we dream big, we aren’t the only ones, and that we have to keep dreaming and striving for what we want, in case it gets away from us too soon.