Damn you, Iowa. Every once and while, like a groundhog emerging from its burrow and making dire predictions, that corn-fed state to our north suddenly explodes into prominence like a dying star, shines brightly for a brief moment like an exploding ethanol plant and then disappears again into obscurity.
For what seems like months now we’ve been inundated with more than we ever wanted to know about the Hawkeye State, a nickname bestowed upon it and stolen directly from the novel, “The Last of the Mohicans” to prevent it from becoming the Wolverine State because residents there didn’t want to be associated with a guy with a bad haircut and razor-like claws for fingers.
What we’ve learned with all the press coverage of Iowa in the weeks leading up to Monday’s presidential caucuses is that Iowa is very conservative, full of evangelical Christians and is 92.1 percent white. In other words, about as representative of the nation as a whole as a bitcoin is to the global economy.
In addition, the fact that the state is overwhelmingly white means, according to recent mortality studies that show increasingly high death rates among white males at ages below what should be expected, that, by the time the next presidential elections roll around, most of the existing population will probably be dead.
But what Iowans didn’t emphasize in their overly long moment in the national spotlight is that their state was the scene of a tragic moment in our nation’s history that occurred exactly 57 years ago today: The Day the Music Died.
Most of today’s generation probably only know it from Don McLean’s 1972 hit song, “American Pie,” although in the minds of many of those the title still probably only invokes a series of raunchy teen movies from the ‘90s. But, as McLean later recounted, for him it was a song about the death of American ideals.
It was on that day, Feb. 3, 1959, that musicians Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and rising star Buddy Holley, died in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield. Waylon Jennings had given up his seat to Richardson on the flight and Holley had won his in a coin toss.
Ironically, just before boarding the small plane Holley had told Jennings, “I hope your old bus freezes over,” to which Jennings reportedly replied, “I hope your plane crashes.”
McLean, a young fan of the musicians, learned of their deaths while delivering papers carrying the news of the crash.
“February made me shiver/ With every paper I’d deliver,” he wrote later in the song which he dedicated to Holley. McLean’s lament of the death of American optimism still rings true today.
“For 10 years now we’ve been on our own/And moss grows fat on a rolling stone/But that’s not how it used to be/When the jester sang for the king and queen/In a coat he borrowed from James Dean/In a voice that came from you and me ...”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.