The Day The Music Died

From The Chestertown Spy, 8/30/2022:

When words fail me—and sometimes they just do—I seek solace in music. Maybe that’s why today I have lyrics from Don McLean’s iconic rock anthem “The Day the Music Died” on repeat in my brain: I met a girl who sang the blues/and I asked her for some happy news/but she just smiled and turned away…

Grief is the thief in the night who comes to snatch our precious breath away, leaving us stunned and gasping for air. That’s how I felt when I heard the news that a good friend died suddenly a few days ago. He had just started to hike in the high, thin air of the Alps when he was taken from us. Even though he was far away at the time, the news of his death quickly spread through his circle of close friends here at home, a spilled glass of red wine staining the tablecloth. And we sang dirges in the dark…

We know McLean’s hymn was a tribute to three legends of rock ’n roll who died in an airplane crash on February 3, 1959 : Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens. In my lifetime, there have been several other days when the music died: the Kennedy assassinations, Dr. King’s murder, the deaths of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, the Challenger explosion come immediately to mind. But this past Friday was more personal, much closer to home. My wife and I had just had dinner with my friend and his wife, and we knew how excited he was for this hiking trip. He was ready for it, absolutely up to the challenge. There was not a cloud in the sky, no foreshadowing, just the anticipation of being with good friends in a majestic environment. And I knew that if I had my chance/that I could make those people dance/and maybe they’d be happy for a while…

My wife has a strong faith, and she is able to find some measure of solace in the working out of God’s mysterious plan. But I respectfully disagree; I can’t find any semblance of reason in an event like this. My own belief is that God understands that life can sometimes be random and cruel, and in the wake of a mind-numbing tragedy like this, God simply whispers, “Here I am; let Me hold your hand.” Did you write the Book of Love?/Do you have faith in God above?/if the Bible tells you so…

This is not meant to be a eulogy. Others in our close circle knew my friend far longer and better than I. Nevertheless, I intend to remember him fondly: his modesty, his charm, his artistry, his Renaissance skills, his humor, his soft-spokenness. His snappy hat, his mustache, and the twinkle in his eye. He was instinctively inclusive. He knew how to engage; he could listen and hear what you said and maybe even what you didn’t say. He loved his friends and adored his wife. He was blessed many times over, and he knew it. I can’t remember if I cried/when I read about his widowed bride/but something touched me deep inside…

Healing and happy memories will come later, but it’s still too raw for them today. This is the time for sadness, for mourning, for grief: And in the streets, the children screamed/The lovers cried and the poets dreamed/But not a word was spoken/The church bells all were broken…

And the three men I admired the most,

The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

They caught the last train for the coast…

The day the music died.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *