Friday, February 03, 2006

Rock and Roll History

It was 47 years ago, Feb. 3, 1959, in the early morning hours, that the small plane took off from the Clear Lake, Iowa airport with three rock icons on board: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, who performed under the name The Big Bopper. Okay, Richardson may not be a rock icon. But the other two have become legends since that fateful morning when their plane crashed.

They had just finished playing the Winter Dance Party at the oddly named Surf Ballroom. Surf? Iowa?

Eight years ago my family and I were heading from Minneapolis, where I had taped an episode of a TV pilot for a Michael Feldman (NPR's "Whadda Ya Know") talk show to Kansas City, where one of our sons lived. We were in the middle of the Iowa desert - it's flat and boring and seems like a desert - when I saw an exit sign for Clear Lake. I had a notion that Clear Lake was where Buddy Holly died and tuned the radio to the tourist info channel. That's when I discovered that he hadn't died there, he had played his last show there. We took a travel break and visited the newly renovated Surf Ballroom. It was like a trip back to the fifties, a gorgeous old dance hall. I got to sit in the pay phone booth where Buddy made his last phone call. I bought a souvenir hat - no one ever seems to know where the Surf Ballroom is when I wear it - and we continued our journey.

But if you are ever in the middle of Iowa, stop in. It's a great side trip. Here's the Surf Ballroom website.


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