Musings On Music History: In Which We Lament The Day The Music Died & Celebrate The Birth Of A Legend

02.03: A good chunk of the first wave of rock and roll royalty died on this day in 1959, when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper crashed during a snowstorm in a field in Iowa, on the way to the next gig of their “Winter Dance Party” tour. Fraught with problems from the beginning (poor planning of the tour route, the breakdown of the heater on the bus, bitter winter weather), the tour, nevertheless, brought rock and roll to the Midwest masses, eager to break up the monotony, like many kids in those days eager for a little rebellion, of the “nuclear family” American life. On the way to their gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly had had enough. Enough of the cold bus, enough of the unwashed clothes, enough of the long rides on the desolate roads. He let it be known that he was going to hire a plane to take him to the next gig, in style, in a hurry, so that he could get a hotel room and have some semblance of normalcy, if only for a night. After the gig, Holly did just that, contracting a young, inexperienced pilot to take them to Moorhead, Minnesota, so that he could get a warm hotel room and a decent shower. Originally, only Holly’s backing band were to travel with him, but that changed. The Big Bopper, suffering from the flu, asked to have the second seat from Waylon Jennings (one of Holly’s band mates), who gave it up to the ailing big man, while Valens flipped a coin with Tommy Alsup (Holly’s other band mate) to see who would get the third seat. Unfortunately for Valens and fortunately for Alsup, relatively speaking, of course, Valens won the toss. It is thought that the pilot, inexperienced with flying at night and disoriented with the heavy snowfall, misread the instruments and took the plane into a steep dive, slamming into the ground at 170 mph. All died instantly, before their time, again, as so many have done, leaving us with only their recordings and the memories. To imagine what these guys could’ve accomplished through the ’60s, especially Valens, who was only 17, is to make a futile attempt at re-imagining history. We are just grateful for “Come On Let’s Go,” “Chantilly Lace,” and “That’ll Be The Day.” Classics, all of them, and forever ingrained in our mind. [more]

02.04: Vincent Damon Furnier was born this day in 1948. Vince who? Well, Vincent went on to become one of the biggest rockers of the 1970s, taking every stage by storm, turning every concert into the craziest and most awesome theatre production you could possibly be at and still hold on to your rock ‘n’ roll cred. Still don’t know what were talking about? Take a look at this. Yep, Vince Fournier is none other than Alice Cooper. Yes, that Alice Cooper. Vince/Alice took hard rock into Ziggy Stardust territory, not in sound, really, but in the way he approached the his music and his stage. Any concert that includes great music paired with guillotines, boa constrictors, electric chairs, and lots of stage blood is rockin’ awesome in our book. Welcome to his nightmare!

02.06: This day in 1945 saw the birth of the man who would bring Jamaica, its music, and the philosophy of Rastafarianism to the world’s attention. We’ve got mad love for Robert Nesta Marley, or Bob, as you may know him, as we discovered him in our blurry college years, gathered with friends for good times, listening to Legend, the best-selling compilation (though not complete in its inclusions by any stretch) of some of his best songs. From “Three Little Birds” to “Exodus” to “Is This Love,” not only did Legend turn us on to the works of Bob Marley, it also expanded our musical horizon significantly, showing us another side of the world, one which we’d never even bothered to think about. From this point, we ventured out to discover the legend of the man himself, his musical beginnings in the ska movement of the ’60s with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston and his organic movement into, and shepherding of, roots reggae in the ’70s. If ever there is a man who epitomizes the word “icon,” it is Bob Marley. Not only does his image and music pretty much represent an entire nation in the eyes of the world, but his influence reaches far, far beyond his country’s tiny borders, into the worlds of rock, pop, rhythm & blues, house, philosophy, religion, and stoned college kids everywhere. Even if they don’t know his history, his survival of an assassination attempt, his death from cancer at age 36 in 1981, his total embrace of the Rastafari religion, or the talented progeny (11 kids by 9 different women!) he left behind, people know his music and understand his message. In the end, this is what Bob wanted. Bob would’ve been 68 today, and we miss his presence on this planet, but we are just happier than a pig in you-know-what to go home tonight, put on Uprising, sit down with a glass of wine, and bask in simple beauty of “Time Will Tell.” Thank you, Bob.

02.06 And on this day in 1962 William Bailey (aka Axl Rose) was born. One of the most vibrant and virile frontmen to emerge from the Sunset Strip scene of the ’80s, Axl and his bandmates in Guns N’ Roses transcended the poppy hair metal (we’re looking at you, Poison!) so popular in their city at the time and blasted out of the gate (no, blew the gate to bits) with Appetite For Destruction, still one of the dirtiest and best rock albums of all time and, arguably, the best hard rock debut album of all time. Now, we won’t sit here and ponder the many lives of Guns N’ Roses, the many eccentricities of Axl, or his return to the record stores last year with Chinese Democracy (we say his return because Axl is the only original member of GNR left, so we can’t really call Chinese Democracy a GNR album no matter how badly Axl wants us to). What we will do is sit here and listen to “Rocket Queen” and “It’s So Easy” and know the greatness of what was. Happy birthday, Axl, and thanks for Appetite.

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