Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Buddy Holly and Taxes

I started the day by learning about two anniversaries that strangely coincide on February 3rd:
1) 50th anniversary of Buddy Holly's death via plane crash, along with Ritchie Valens and the "Big Bopper" (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.)

2) 96th anniversary of Federal Income Taxes, courtesy of the 16th amendment to the US Constitution

Upon hearing these anniversaries on National Public Radio, my mind instantly raced to the common expression uttered by Americans: "The only things of which you can be certain in life are death and taxes." Of which, only one of these things was wholly certain before 1913. But thanks to the IRS, that second thing is now nearly a certainty, unless of course you happen to be a prominent Democrat appointed to a Presidential cabinet position. But I digress...

What really caught my attention was the subsequent NPR profile of Buddy Holly. His music is but a quaint flicker for today's generation of hip-hop fans and electronica junkies, but he was the original rock & roll legend, taking staid "white" music out of the suburban dance parlors and into the grittier realm of rhythm & blues; he garned an African-American following when whites and blacks did not formally mix their musical tastes. As musicians of the day often did, he trouped with a fellow bunch of burgeoning rock & rollers across the country, hoofing it from one high school gymnasium to the next thumping this strange music, befuddling elders and inciting young people to move their hips and sing along in polite protest to the surrounding authority figures.
On an early February night outside a small town in Iowa, Buddy Holly boarded a 4-seat propellor plane to hop over to the next small town after finishing another ripping set. No doubt his wife was strangely thinking about him back in Texas, newly pregnant and wondering what would become of her traveling music man. Amidst a light snowfall and swirling winds, Buddy Holly's plane went down in that dark night and took with it the greatest early lights of the Rock & Roll Revolution; the event was little noticed at the time thanks to an even greater plane crash on the same night in New York City but eventually struck a chord through the famous memorialization that Don Mclean provided to "the day the music died" with his famous 1971 song "American Pie".

Buddy Holly was only 22 in 1959, already a prolific recording artist but with so much left to say at his young age. The Beatles were greatly influenced by him, even taking their name in veiled deference to The Crickets, the name of Buddy's band. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Paul Simon - so many called Buddy Holly a musical influence that his music has inevitably become ingrained into our pop culture, an intrinsic aspect of our shared rhythm and rock & roll. Even those hip-hop stars of today have some sort of homage to give to Buddy Holly, a trailblazer that finds a strange new audience even 50 years later.

My rumination and following research led me to listen again to Don McLean's song and to shiver as he laid down one of the song's final lines: "...in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed but not a word was spoken..." I care not to wander into thoughts on my own mortality on a snowy winter evening in a New Jersey hotel room - not much different than the final night of Buddy Holly's life - but I do wonder what might have become of Buddy in what would have been his 72nd year.

May Buddy Holly rest in peace and may we all allow the familiar notes of Buddy's famous songs ("That'll Be the Day", "Peggy Sue") carry us for another 50 years, or as long as fate gives us to cherish our own living moments - including those life-affirming taxes!
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