Five years ago yesterday I checked the #1 thing off my (youthful) bucket list when I visited the Buddy Holly plane crash site. Enough footage was shot to compile a video telling the story of the day and finding the crash site. Take your own tour of that hallowed ground below, with music provided by the Brian Keenan Band:
The crash was of course made infamous by Don McLean in “American Pie”, and stands as a symbol of lost youth and the first sign that the golden post-war era of unabated optimism was coming to a close. Whether or not rock ‘n’ roll “died” is up for debate. But Buddy was only 22 when he was killed in a plane crash near this small Iowa farm city, and an incredible void was left in the genre of rock that generally went eternally unfulfilled.
Our video starts out in Clear Lake proper, and we make our way through town to the Surf Ballroom where Buddy wielded his Fender Strat for the last time. We then crisscross Iowa farmland on hardened gravel roads, numbered but not named, until we get to the muddy path leading to the crash site.
Loss. A palpable sensation of loss hammered me to the bone on this very personal journey. It was like any other cornfield in the midwest except that here occurred a great American tragedy. There was no sound at the crash site except for the faint humming of the silos across the field, and a cold midwestern wind saying ‘winter’. Loss. The sun shone on us everywhere else that day except at the crash site. Loss.
Looking back, one would wonder why Buddy would have died in such a remote corner of the world. One was a statement on rock ‘n’ roll as a whole at the time; it just wasn’t that mainstream. The other reason had to do directly with Buddy.
He had moved to New York in late 1958 and despite having recorded an orchestral solo session for Coral Records, he was running short on finances. He had not been fully compensated for his earlier work with the Crickets, and so to make rent, he was forced to go back on the road.
The Winter Dance Party Tour commenced with Buddy headlining at George Devine’s Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23 January 1959. The fellas played a show every single night up to February 2nd, when they played their final show at the Surf in Clear Lake. Rock ‘n’ roll was not for the weak in 1959.
The sky was made for the stars.
The Surf is still an active venue, and the crash site is open to the public and maintained in a very appropriate manner. It’s off the beaten path and marked in a very sublime, reverent way, but anyone of dogged persistence can find their way to this somber locale with relative ease.
The picture at the opening (and below) is by Lewis Allen of a somber-looking Buddy about to disembark the Crickets’ tour bus for a show at the Auditorium Theatre, Rochester, New York, 19 January 1958.
My thanks to Kari E. Newton for her contributions to this video.