The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the “Big Bopper,” and Ritchie Valens by Larry Lehmer
This book pretty much ticked me off from the start. Fortunately, we got along better after the first pages, but it was not a very good introduction.
Here’s the thing: The first part of the book is pure (speculative) fiction—the author suggests quite strongly that Roger Peterson, pilot of the Bonanza that carried Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), was reluctant to take off that evening and that he was convinced by his passengers to do so. I get the sense that the blame for the crash is being transferred from the pilot to the passengers. And I’m here to tell you: The pilot in command is the pilot in command, doggone it! It’s his/her choice whether to take off. Not to mention that it’s well documented that Peterson had no business flying after dark—he was not considered adept at night flight. Good God!
OK. Let’s let that go for a moment. I’m cooling down now…
This book gives us the full itinerary of the Winter Dance Party, that dreadful saga. Those poor boys, traversing the upper Midwest in the dead of winter in a series of godforsaken old buses.
Here we get very much the Iowa perspective – via interviews with people who were present at the tour’s various Iowa locations. Author Lehmer was a journalist with the Des Moines Register, so he’s got the Iowa stuff down pat. And unlike some other authors, he’s not snotty about my little home state. He also traveled “abroad” to the surrounding states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois in particular—to fill in the story from the viewpoint of those who saw the show or met the performers in those states.
As its subtitle implies, this book is the story of the tour, so there are details about the various musicians who performed during the tour. It was in this book, of any in my Buddy Holly reading spree, that I learned the most about Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. It was good to hear some of the background that brought them both to the Winter Dance Party.
I actually had a bit of a difficult time reading this one, because I really don’t want the bad thing to happen—and this book is about those final days. When reading a full-length Holly biography, at least a person can delay the sense of doom for a bit, while things are going well and “Maybe Baby” is being recorded (twice). But here, it’s all about those last days, and it can be a bit glum. Blast it all.