February 3 in History

Today is my mother’s birthday. Rena taught me to read, to write, and was my first audience … and she still is my first audience. Happy birthday, Mom!

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Unrelated to the above, today is “the Day the Music Died,” Don McLean’s memorable phrase for the day that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died with pilot Roger Peterson in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Today is the 58th anniversary of an event that introduced an absence into the iconography of rock.

Buddy Holly was 22, Ritchie Valens was 17, J. P. Richardson was 28. Greil Marcus wrote in Rolling Stone in 1969, “If Buddy Holly were alive today I’ve no doubt that he, like Johnny Cash, would be recording with Bob Dylan. Traces of Holly’s vocal style, his phrasing rather than his insane changes from deep bass to something resembling soprano, pop up all through Dylan’s career: on an obscure 1962 Columbia single, ‘Mixed-Up Confusion,’ on ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie,’ on ‘I Shall Be Free No. 10,’ anywhere you look. Dylan and Holly share a clipped, staccato delivery that communicates a sly sense of cool, almost teenage masculinity.”

“What could have been” entered rock’s conceptual phrases on this date in 1959.

Waylon Jennings, a radio DJ who was in Holly’s band, declined a seat on the plane. The crash haunted him for the rest of his life. His final words to the performers was a jaunty, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!”

Tommy Allsup, a guitar player in Holly’s band who flipped a coin with Valens over a seat on the plane—Valens won the coin flip and the seat—died on January 11, 2017, at the age of 85. According to Rolling Stone, Allsup’s son Austin reported that “Valens’ sister contacted him after his father’s death to offer her condolences. ‘I told her in my message back, now my dad and Ritchie can finally finish the tour they started 58 years ago,’ he said.”

“Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly:

“Februry made me shiver / with every paper I’d deliver ….” Don McLean, live at the BBC with “American Pie”:

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Luna 9, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft, became the first spacecraft to accomplish a soft landing on the Moon, or any planetary body other than Earth, and to transmit photos from the landing spot on this date in 1966.

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President Woodrow Wilson died in 1924 on this date. Audrey Meadows died in 1996 on this date. Al Lewis died in 2006 on this date. Ben Gazzara died five years ago today. Sir Martin Gilbert died two years ago today.

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Gertrude Stein was born on this date in 1874. Norman Rockwell was born on this date in 1894. Mabel Mercer was born on this date in 1900. Joey Bishop was born on this date in 1918. The late Dr. Henry Heimlich was born on this date in 1920. (He died on December 17, 2016. His discovery/invention was employed to save my life one night.) Victor Buono was born on this date in 1938. Beau Biden was born on this date in 1969.

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Shelley Berman is 92 today. Fran Tarkenton is 77. Blythe Danner is 74. Bob Griese is 72. Paul Auster is 70 today. Morgan Fairchild is 67. Nathan Lane is 61 today. Warwick Davis is 47 today. Isla Fisher is 41.

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  1. angloswiss · February 3, 2017

    I remember that plane crash as if it was yesterday. I was 12 years old and they were my stars at the time, especially Buddy Holly. How time flies and they were so young.


  2. Anonymous · February 3, 2017

    Happy Birthday Wishes to your Mum- and many more Mark- Thank you for your blog packed full of literary goodies


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