So, sixty years ago today Buddy Holly died, age twenty-two, an event commemorated more than a decade later by Don McLean in his classic piece of Americana, the 1971 song "American Pie":
Long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music
Used to make me smile . . .
But February made me shiver
With every paper I deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step.
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widow-bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died . . .
That said, I have to admit that I like the music of the 1950s far less than that of the 1960s or much of the 1970s. And of the stars of that era (officially Before My Time), the rock-n-roll star I like best wd be Fats Domino, followed by Presley, who at this best was phenomenal (but who often was far below this best). Holly wd I suppose come in third, mainly for "Everyday" and "That'll Be the Day", followed by a smattering of other people (e.g. Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers) for this song or that. I suppose it's Holly's tragedy that he died so young while it's Presley's that he died at the nadir of his career, so we remember him at this worst and Holly at his best.
That said, I have to admit I like "American Pie" better than any song by Holly. And I think it holds up remarkably well, both as a song and as catchy cryptic. Rather like "Garden Party", from about the same era, in that respect: the song is enhanced by catching the allusions but does not depend on a listener's understanding it to enjoy it --rather like modernist (Eliot-era) poetry in that respect.
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