Ryan: Buddy Holly, Kobe Bryant, and the rest of us

Photo by Sean Ryan

Buddy Holly played his last show at Surf Ballroom, site of the Democratic Wing Ding. Right there in Clear Lake, Iowa, as part of the disastrous and possibly illegal "Winter Dance Party" tour. Tickets cost $1.25.

The show didn't sell out, partly because it was an unplanned gig. And partly because the tour itself was a nightmare, a series of disasters which would go on to haunt the teenage heart of America for years and years.

These were the first wild days of Rock N' Roll. The girls hurled their waists with some new primal dance, luminous in their bright poodle skirts and their delicate hair bundled.

And the boys in blue jeans pretended not to notice, brittle underneath it all, chewing at the inside of their cheeks or rubbing their sweaty palm on their thigh.

About a thousand kids. Mostly high school, teenagers, who had to smuggle in their booze, who only wanted to know love and had to borrow a car and drive there from anywhere, on a school night no less.

And where was Buddy Holly?

Was he really right there in Clear Lake like the posters and disc jockeys had promised?

The teenagers shook as they stood, waiting.

Most of them had seen Buddy Holly on the Ed Sullivan Show, jittery in black and white. They had heard him on the their favorite radio station. Had played his single in high fidelity.

They just knew he was going to be bigger than Elvis. Everyone did. He was going to be the musical king of the nation.

*

The musicians, with a clear look at the audience, played along. But under all the stagelit excitement there were hiccups and obstacles that they hated.

This tour was rickety.

A few days earlier, drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized for frostbite, on account of the horrible travel conditions and the near-arctic weather, so the band had an onstage rotation.

That night, at the Surf Ballroom, Buddy Holly started behind the drumkit, with a hat down over his face.

"Well who's the drummer?" one of the performers hollered, grinning so wide and phony with a wink.

"We call him … Buddy Holly!"

And the crowd catapulted into a frenzy. Screech screech screech. There he was! Buddy Holly!

The teenagers loved the world all around them. Isn't the world so sweet to us, and youthful? Pressing into the stage, and dancing and dancing. How wild, how freeing, how perfect that must have felt.

*

I started writing this story last August, while visiting Clear Lake, Iowa. Worked on it for two months. I have run stories about Iowa leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

For this story, I wanted to know, How does the loss of a cultural idol affect us?

With news of Kobe Bryant's death, the Buddy Holly story seemed inappropriate. I asked around. Mentors and editors and my wife, who is a counselor, and my father. Should I pull the story? Was it exploitative? My work is usually guided by optimism and comedy, a striving for humanity. If I bungled the story, I'd be violating that.

All last week in Los Angeles, clouds. Beneath any sunshine, the breeze was especially nervous. A dense fog had covered the city.
"You depressed me with that cold, and very sad story," my father told me. "I've read many Buddy Holly stories and I saw the movie, but that one was straight-to-the-heart good. I went to sleep thinking of cold Iowa cornfields in January, and I could almost picture the scene in the ballroom before they flew."

*

The band was exhausted from the tour, but they hung out with the kids in the audience every time there was a break.

The hidden drama of the night was Holly's struggle to make the flight happen. He couldn't handle another grueling bus trek. He ran the scenario over. Then before anyone arrived at an answer it was back to the stage or "Will you sign my record?"

If they flew to Fargo, North Dakota, they could arrive ahead of everyone else for the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota, giving them time to do laundry. And it cannot be stressed how severely they all needed clean clothes. Holly also wanted a chance to rest. He was tired. He was alone. Far from his wife, his wife who was pregnant with their first child, and here he was freezing in the winter far from Texas.

Everyone was bloody sick of the cold tour bus.

Their clothes were filthy. And cold. Everything, brittle. Teeth like mallets on a xylophone. Cold.

They went through five buses in those 11 days, school buses mostly, broken and wonky and unfit for any sort of travel.

As the "Winter Dance Party" tour snaked the Midwest in January, temperatures dove 30 degrees below freezing. Several of the musicians caught the flu.

A cold. Whatever else.

Who ever knows.

*

And they'd just traveled 350 miles on the bus. It would be another 365 miles to the gig in Moorhead. The day after that, another 325 miles back in the direction they'd just come from.

And it was cold in that dressing room as they mulled it all over. They had cash in their pockets, plenty. They could afford the $36 each.

So Holly said, "Let's take a plane."

*

To this day, the Surf Ballroom has the phone Holly used to call his wife. He told her that he'd be flying next gig. Done with that bus.

They'd only been married for six months. He was 22 years old. She was supposed to have gone on tour with him, but something held her back. Pregnancy maybe. But for the rest of her life she blamed herself, always wondering how things would have played out had she been there that night.

*

There were only four seats in the 1947 single-engined, V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, so three bandmembers and a pilot.

Their pilot was himself exhausted after a 17-hour day. A 21-year-old local with only 700 flying hours — 1,500 is the standard. He was ill-equipped for disastrous weather. He relied on the flight instruments, didn't know how to land a mechanically-damaged plane.

It was like handing your car keys to a 13-year-old with decent coordination and saying, "take me through the mountains" right as it starts snowing.

It could go well. Or the slightest impediment could be needlessly fatal and who should ever have to deal with that?

*

Guitarist Tommy Allsup had reserved a seat on the plane, but Richie Valens kept pleading with him to give it to him.

At some point, Allsup shuffled out of the theater, went to a nearby gas station, and came back, left and came back, and Valens was still there in the green room pleading.

Which was odd because Valens had a tremendous fear of planes, had constant nightmares about hurtling down out of the sky.

And for good reason. Two years earlier, the day he stayed home from school to attend his grandfather's funeral, he heard an explosion and looked outside just as a plane was collapsing downward like a comet, a flaming mess.

He and his family rushed to the crash site. Turns out, the plane collided into the playground of Valen's school. Three students died, 90 were injured. One of the dead was Valens' best friend. Had Valens been there that day, he would have died beside him.

After that, he receded into himself and focused on music, and when he looked up, he had become a cultural renegade.

Pretty much an alternate ending to "Donnie Darko."

*

But Valens, the man who turned "La Bamba" into a massive hit, wouldn't let it go. He wanted on the seat. He wanted on that plane. So Allsup and Valens decided that they would flip for it.

Someone produced a half-dollar coin.

Valens called heads.

Tink!

Hear the whirl of air as the coin spirals up into the unknown. Wobble wobble spin and smack, flat and smooth like a tiny silver dinner plate.

As it lands like a timpani flare.

Feel the weight of the moment right before there's an answer.

The moment without a heads or a tails.

It's a moment that lasts centuries.

If it's your life, you build empires of doubt in that moment.

Because any outcome will help determine the unknowable shape of your future. Although you don't realize it because you're just trying to get a private plane ride.

Heads.

Allsup lost.

Years later he said, "That's the first time I've won anything in my life."

Waylon Jennings was meant to be on the flight, but he gave his seat to J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, who had the flu. Jennings took the bus instead, and Buddy Holly jokingly told Jennings that he hoped he would freeze on the bus.

"I hope your ol' plane crashes," Jennings joked.

He felt guilty about that remark for the rest of his life. Blamed himself for what happened.

*

At 12:40 a.m., Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson arrived at Mason City Airport. Richardson had $272.53 and and a guitar pick and a pair of dice in his pockets. His gold wedding ring sparked like a mirror on his finger.

At the airport the weather was fine, some light snow was all. But a vicious cold front was looming just out of view. The pilot never got an accurate weather report. The plane took off at 12:55 a.m.

Five minutes later, silence on the radio. The operator couldn't get a response. Then the blizzard plummeted down and nobody could see a thing in any place or direction. There would be no rescue flight, no immediate rescue.

The blizzard was so bad that nobody could reach the crash site until the morning, 10 hours later.

The plane hadn't made it far. Six miles northwest of the airport. Most likely, the pilot experienced what's called spatial disorientation, coupled with a rush of vertigo. That — with the low clouds and the snow and the violent wind and no visibility — he lost sense of what was up and what was down, then chose the wrong direction.

Down.

Tails.

Because the plane smashed into the frozen ground at about 170 mph.

For years, the scene haunted the Iowans who found Holly and the others. Like the man who had to identify the bodies, he never outlived those memories. Even the crime scene photographer and the mortician got squirmy. They had faced the cruelty of immediate loss played out in the most violent possible way.

Holly's wife was at home when a friend called and told her not to turn on the TV. She hung up and turned on the TV.

"We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin," said the announcer. "Three young singers who soared to the heights of show business of the current Rock N' Roll craze were killed today in the crash of a light plane in an Iowa snow flurry…." Blink. Collapse. Blink. Collapse. And her vision surged and her body sank. That's how she found out? After the rest of the world? Here she is, carrying the man's child, and this is how she finds out?

*

Did you know that all the major eulogies in newspapers or shows or news websites are pre-written? Periodically updated, like a resume, so that, when that person dies, there's a story ready.

It's morbid, really.

Why can't journalists just keep the admiration for these cultural icons alive in each moment, like a normal person? Money. And prestige. But also compassion. Get the story out first. But make it the best.

If you have to give a speech at a funeral, how will you handle it? Will you break open, sobbing, and rush off the stage. Or will you remain composed, harnessing the deep, complicated sadness and beauty alive, and bring everyone in the room to tears? How much of what you do is for yourself? And how much is for others?

*

Earlier that morning, some farmer outside Clear Lake looked out at his field as he chomped his Quaker Oats and said to himself, "Now what in the hell.

Three music legends, heaped around into a frozen terrain. On one frosted landscape. A big ugly cornfield plashed white with ice and snow, almost metallic, certainly gross, but beautiful in its repose, in a rusty dumpster of bright-black morning light.

Meanwhile the earth did not care. Nature had no opinion. It only shook and offered more chaos.

A formidable wind.

A treacherous breeze.

A spindrift hate of ice and snow and blood and subtraction.

All four men died immediately. Thank God for that, is what I say.

When the sheriffs found Buddy Holly, not far from the fuselage, slumped into the ground, he had $193 cash in his pocket. The coroner's fee was $11.65, so they deducted that, making the total amount of physical money that Buddy Holly died with $181.35. At the time, he was worth $1 million.
In all the ice and snow, the sheriffs could see his yellow leather jacket. He was no longer innocent. He had traveled and lived and dreamt and loved. He had gotten married.
He was to have become a father.
He had traversed life best as any of us can.
He sang in an enchanting way. He grunted into microphones. He was supposed to be bigger than Elvis. He was so damn young.
*
A decade after Holly's death, folk singer Don McLean wrote "American Pie," a tribute to Holly as a symbol of our country. McLean declared Holly's death-date, February 3, 1959 "the day that music died."

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God aboveIf the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?

Innocence determines a lot of things, but most of all it will make a disaster so much uglier and more devastating.
If your hero dies, you ache in a newly cumbersome way. The after-light seems dimmer.

It's not our fault that we, as Americans, are innocent. How do you think we keep going? If we were cynics, we would never have formed a nation, let alone made it through a Civil War, two world wars, everything else, too much to even fathom, because it continues, as recently as this Sunday, with Kobe Bryant.

Optimism and laughter are the two greatest coping mechanisms for the condition of life, and they do well with innocence.

In America, optimism is a natural reaction. Dream and dream, we're taught. So we dream. And it is awful when you're yanked from a dream and wake up to a disaster.

But, behind it all, there's a spirit that is ready for the next great adventure, along the sacred frontier.

Once a year, we celebrate our independence from Britain, with explosions of gun-powdered color that decorate the heat, and tiptoe each river, and allude to the heavens.

*

Now imagine that it's 1959.

Rock 'N' Roll just burst to life. But you live in Iowa, in the winter, so there's not a lot happening.

And you see a flier that says Buddy Holly is playing in Clear Lake. Tonight. A Monday. You are 17, with all the love and rebellion of the nation in your eyes.

You are enamored of the sounds of pop music. In the car, you hear it and you smile, a bright wind through your hair. You love America's unique features. The limitless sunsets, and daunting mountain ranges, and glinting skyscrapers, and you have gawked up at them while holding a cheeseburger and a Coca-Cola.

You love Hollywood with all those starlit celebrities who draw you nearer and nearer, as close to the screen as possible. You have a father who fought the Nazis and a grandpa who fought the Nazis' fathers.

So you do the American thing, and borrow your mother's Pontiac Catalina, and you and your friends just drive, 80 miles of farmlands heaping with snow, to Surf Ballroom.

Imagine that car ride. Smoking cigarettes, blaring the radio, taking rips of whiskey from a flask, as you slide along the road. You enjoy the moments when the pale sunlight drapes over you, even though it's still winter, when the cornfields bend at the will of the Canadian draft.

Entire 15-minute-spans pass without your seeing another car. You sing and laugh and smile. You tell all the jokes you know, you even tell some of your secrets.

You are ready to find love. You ramble about the girl or boy you will meet at the concert, as the band plays "Peggy Sue." Maybe you'll even cozy up to one another in a booth. Maybe you'll get married. You are ready to witness magic. You are magical. Adulthood does not scare you, but it definitely scares you.

You wiggle in your seat the closer you get to Clear Lake. You are ready to see Buddy Holly with your own eyes.
Maybe you unwittingly drive past the field where his plane will crash later that night.

But you could not in your most depraved thoughts imagine something so awful. It doesn't even occur to you as a possibility.
You are 20 minutes from the ballroom, wondering what is Buddy doing right this instant?

You are in the middle of the American commotion. And every time you look out at the landscape, you think, "All of this represents something much bigger, doesn't it?"

The human world doesn't ever change so much. When someone important dies, we all suffer. A cultural legend is unique. Artist, politician, musician, master chef, comedian. An athlete — an NBA legend. They shape our lives and fill us with answers. Or they at least fill us with enough comfort to get through any given moment.

Because we are not Buddy Holly. We are those teenagers heading to that ballroom, in that car ride, passing those icy cornfields, looking out at snow-dappled farmlands, on that February evening in 1959. We have the multiplying light to our star-pointed eyes.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com

At the same time President Biden's misplaced classified documents were sitting in his house, garage, and office at the Penn Biden Center, a whole lot of Chinese money was flowing around him. Is this just a coincidence, or did the Chinese get anything in return? Investigative journalist John Solomon joins to break down what was going on here ...

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Here are 5 RIDICULOUS moments from the Davos summit

Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff, FABRICE COFFRINI / Contributor, JOSEPH EID / Contributor | Getty Images

Glenn has been warning about the dangers of the World Economic Forum and The Great Reset, which is the WEF's goal to utilize the crises like the COVID pandemic to create a leftist Utopia. Now, these goals continue to take shape at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. Here are five ridiculous moments from this year's summit that shed light on their ultimate vision Glenn has been warning about.

1. Ex-CNN host Brian Stelter hosts the WEF panel on "disinformation," calling for the criminalization of "hate speech" in the U.S.

The former host of Reliable Sources was fired from CNN in 2022 for raking in the network's worst ratings since 2019. CNN's CEO at the time, Chris Licht, accused Stelter of "drawing ire from conservatives" for misrepresenting the facts and propagating false narratives to demonize conservatives. Licht fired Stelter because he was a liability to CNN's attempt to "re-brand" itself as a "reliable" news source.

You would think the World Economic Forum could have found a more credible host for its "disinformation," than Brian Stelter, and it comes with little surprise Stelter's panel called for the continued censorship of conservatives.

Stelter asked his panel, "How does this discussion of disinformation relate to everything else happening today in Davos?"

Vice-President of the European Commission Vera Jourová answered "illegal hate speech" from right-wing extremists, and then called for the criminalization of hate speech in the U.S., asserting, "I think that we have a strong reason why we have this in the criminal law" within the EU.

As former Trump advisor Stephen Miller pointed out, Stelter's refusal to further challenge Jourová's call for censorship is indicative of his failed career as a journalist.

2. Al Gore warns of "rain bombs," "boiling oceans," and "xenophobia" as a result of climate change.

Gore's speech "speaks" for itself...

After asserting that we're creating an "open sewer" in the troposphere, Gore exclaimed:

That’s what’s boiling the oceans, creating these atmospheric rivers, and the rain bombs, and sucking the moisture out of the land, and creating the droughts, and melting the ice and raising the sea level, and causing these waves of climate refugees!
Watch the latest video at <a href="https://www.foxnews.com">foxnews.com</a>

Speaking of refugees, Gore blamed the mass migrations of people on... you guessed it... climate change! Of course this leads to "xenophobia" and "fascism," so if we hate "xenophobia" and "fascism," we need to stop climate change IMMEDIATELY. Plus the rain bombs...

Does this sound reminiscent of the "Man-Bear-Pig?"

Courtesy of South Park

3. Siemens AG Chairman Jim Hagemann urges for 1 million people to NOT eat meat—predicting a "meatless future."

It wouldn't be a World Economic Forum summit if bugs didn't take center stage. Siemens AG Chairman Jim Hagemann said he was inspired by his 24-year-old daughter to stop eating meat to fight climate change and urged one million people to stop eating meat to balance out jet emissions—like the jets his fellow attendees used to travel to the conference?

Here's what he said:

If a billion people stop eating meat, I tell you, it has a big impact. Not only does it have a big impact on the current food system, but it will also inspire innovation of food systems."
Watch the latest video at <a href="https://www.foxnews.com">foxnews.com</a>

Of course, finding "alternative sources of protein" means... you guessed it... BUGS. The EU is already cutting down on cattle farms and promoting the building of insect farms to initiate this "protein transition."

4. John Kerry calls Davos attendees a "select group" with an "almost extraterrestrial" plan to save the planet.

Kerry's opening speech at Davos shows the type of elitism the attendees believe about themselves. They are the "special ones" who can gather at a Swiss resort town to discuss how to "save the planet" and the "little people" who are too ignorant to have a say in the matter. His words speak for themselves:

When you start to think about it, it's pretty extraordinary that we — select group of human beings because of whatever touched us at some point in our lives — are able to sit in a room and come together and actually talk about saving the planet [...] I mean, it's so almost extraterrestrial to think about saving the planet [...] f you say that to most people, most people think you're just a crazy, tree-hugging, lefty liberal, you know, do-gooder, or whatever, and there's no relationship. But really, that's where we are.
Watch the latest video at <a href="https://www.foxnews.com">foxnews.com</a>

Well, not everyone was amused...

Businessman and conservative Tim Acheson called Kerry’s words, "Liberal delusions of grandeur." Jordan Peterson also tweeted, "Who are you going to sacrifice to save the planet, @JohnKerry -- and do you think and how will you ensure that they have any say in the matter?"

5. Davos attendees traveled on more than 1,000 private jets to the conference.

Greenspace, an environmentalist research group, estimates the total emissions used by Davos attendees on their private jets while traveling to the conference is equivalent to "about 350,000 average cars."

Greenspace also found that 53 percent of all private jet trips were short-haul flights of less than 470 nautical miles that "could have easily been train trips." This comes amid the EU's push to ban short-distance flights and opt for train travel instead, which many continue to point out.

Closing thoughts

What once sounded like conspiracy theories are now taking shape amongst the global elites at Davos. As Glenn continues to shed light on the dangers of the World Economic Forum, here's how YOU can fight back against their goals that threaten our freedoms and democracy.

In honor of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, we would like to resurrect this gem from Glenn's Instagram archive. If "the Great Reset" doesn't work out, Schwab should consider reaching out to the Bond franchise for a Plan-B career.

Be sure to follow Glenn on Instagram for more!

This is part of our ongoing series on "The Great Reset." To read similar content, click here.

PROOF the World Economic Forum wants you eating... BUGS!

EasyBuy4u, PeopleImages, TeoLazarev | Getty Images

As the World Economic Forum continues to meet in Davos about building a more "sustainable" future, Glenn's warning on a seemingly outlandish sustainability goal is becoming reality: eating bugs!

In its 2023 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum called for the "transition to net-zero, nature-positive food" to fight "food insecurity." In other words, the WEF imagines a future with minimal meat and maximum "zero-emissions food"—like bugs—as consumers' main source of protein. This is a part of "the Great Reset," the agenda proposed by the World Economic Forum in 2020, urging leaders to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to restructure the "world order" to bring about a leftist Utopia.

SHOP: Trigger leftists and amuse your friends with 'Eat Ze Bugs' socks (while supplies last)

Major news outlets like the BBC have promoted insect farms as a sustainable food source to "reduce the reliance on everyday meat eating."

Courtesy of the BBC

So what's the big concern about eating bugs? As the video points out, many cultures throughout the world have been eating insects for centuries—many consider them a delicacy! The issue with the WEF's push for insects isn't merely the option to eat bugs. If someone wants to munch on some grasshoppers, nothing is stopping them! The major concern is the way in which the WEF wants to mandate insect consumption, and, consequentially, destroy the beef industry.

According to the same 2023 Risk Report, the WEF calls for "radical policy measures" to bring about the food transition to zero-net-emissions food, like insects. This means imposing such a burden on the dairy and cattle industries that it renders them impossible to function, paving the way for a new insect industry.

In the Netherlands, the EU's largest food exporter, the government is forcing the farmers to sell their land to the state unless they reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer used. However, without nitrogen fertilizer, it is nearly impossible for the farmers to produce enough food to feed the nation, not to mention turn a profit. Moreover, without nitrogen fertilizer, it will be impossible for cattle farmers to produce enough food to feed their cows. This is an impossible burden for farmers to bear, and they often capitulate and sell their land to the government, paving the way for a burgeoning insect industry. Is it any coincidence the EU is pushing for insects as a means of "food sufficiency" and combatting climate change?

If you think eating insects is a novel issue from across the pond, think again. There is a growing push for a "beef tax" in the U.S. to disincentivize beef consumption and incentivize alternative "sustainable" protein sources...like bugs. According to 2021, data, U.S. beef is a 79-billion-dollar-per-year industry, employing million across the U.S.'s 700,000 cattle farms. These stats don't even include the U.S.'s dairy industry. If the global environmentalists have their way, this major U.S. industry will be wiped out, wreaking havoc on our economy. Yet this government control over the "everyday person's" consumption is all too tantalizing.

As the World Economic Forum convenes in Davos to discuss how to achieve their "sustainable utopia," Glenn continues to advocate for the free market and the ability to choose our own consumer goods, rather than giving global elites the power to consolidate and mandate their "approved goods" for widespread consumption. Though consuming insects may seem like an outlandish idea that has no impact on our daily lives, it is a part of a larger movement to control our way of life to achieve a more sustainable future, threatening both our economy and our basic freedoms.

This is part of our ongoing series on "The Great Reset." To read similar content, click here.