When flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson River last month, everyone praised the pilots’ skill and rightly so. It was in the news everywhere. Was it a big deal to the world when a small plane crashed near the end of a runway Mason City Iowa a little after 1:00 AM fifty years ago today? To kids everywhere in the USA, yes, it was. To the world at large, not really. Is it a big deal that today is the 50th anniversary of that plane crash? To a few senior citizens who really care about music, yes it is. To the world at large, not really.
The plane carried a rock ‘n’ roll icon, Buddy Holly, and two other hit-music makers with a lot of promise, Richie Valens and J.P, Richardson, otherwise known as the Big Bopper. Most of the news coverage of that event was broadcast on radio stations that played rock ’n’ roll.
There is no birthday for rock ’n’ roll and anyone who tells you they know what the first rock ’n’ roll record was is blowing smoke. Rock ’n’ roll evolved. But by 1971, Don McLean would call February 3rd 1959, “The Day the Music Died.” He wrote, recorded and sold millions of copies of a song by that name that chronicled the music from the day of the plane crash to the time the song was written. The chronicle had some very obscure references and people became obsessed with what the song meant.
The music was aimed at teenagers and commercial rock ’n’ roll was at most five years old when that plane crashed, so nobody in the news media was old enough to have grown up with the music. Very few people in the media liked the music. Imagine what kind of media coverage John Lennon’s death would have garnered if nobody who worked for TV network news operations or major newspapers liked his music.
Holly, far more than the other two, was an influential figure in rock history. He wrote and produced his own music before that was common. His style influenced future rockers. Tommy Roe and Bobby Vee are just two. The Beatles and Rolling Stones recorded his music. Why do you think the Beatles called themselves that? Holly’s band was the Crickets. Holly was in the first group of inductees to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
But we’ve come full circle. There are very few people in the media today who know and like his music. Many of the ones who weren’t old enough to be hired when he died are old enough to be retired now. And advertisers are interested in younger audiences because they’ve been told it’s hard to influence senior citizens with commercials and print ads. So nobody is programming to the people who do care.
In the biggest broadcast market in the USA, there is no longer a radio station that features music from the 1950s. WCBS FM used to and DJ Bob Shannon who knows a lot about that music did a nice tribute to Holly and the others today at noon. In the process, he laid out some of the ways Holly influenced other musicians. But as an example of how little notice was paid to the anniversary, no cable TV outlet saw fit to broadcast the 1978 movie “The Buddy Holly Story” today. Nobody scheduled ”Peggy Sue Got Married” either. The movie isn’t about Buddy Holly, but the plot is kind of inspired by that song.
So the 50th anniversary of the day the music died passed with a lot less notice than yesterday got for being Ground Hog Day.