(This story is a work in progress due to the honest truth that some details may need to be sorted out. None of the names or locations have been changed, but some of the details may have been altered accidentally.)
“You boys sit down and I’ll tell you a true story,” said Robbie to the assembled group of grungy teenagers on that late summer afternoon.
We had just finished up with band practice in Robbie’s basement, the lowest level of their family home which we commonly referred to as the Bravo Hotel. The four of us were spilling out onto the patio shirtless and soaked with sweat from rehearsing our crappy teenage songs. The sun was sinking over the wooden fence that afternoon as we found our seats on patio benches in the dull humidity of the Iowa summer.
“This one is really something, and its true,” said Robbie, throwing in an I swear for added validation of genuine intentions.
See, it wasn’t that we wouldn’t believe Robbie, but we had grown accustomed to his fantastical stories over the course of many similar exhibitions the past few months. We would finish band practice when someone suggested a smoke break, head outside, and Robbie would come over from the shop to regale us with epic stories.
Robbie owned our small town’s music shop and recording studio, a business adjacent to the house where his family lived. John, his eldest son, was the drummer in our crappy high school band, and their home had become the daily practice space for our raggedy crew. Day after day we returned to agonizingly work to perfect songs that were imperfect, satisfied with the contentment that comes with camaraderie and honest effort.
Robbie was a musician as well, formerly drumming in a band named Galaxy that opened for Creedence Clearwater Revival on CBS Television once upon a time, at least according to another story that had spilled out on a different lazy afternoon.
The four of us settled in, burning our bare backs on the sun warmed benches as we prepared for another story. Robbie looked at each of us with wide eyes, making sure were tuned in for what was sure to be an incredible tale. His curly graying hair tied back in a ponytail, Robbie held a Capri 100 in one hand, a blue can of Bud Light in the other as he began.
“Are you all familiar with the Buddy Holly plane crash?” he asked, looking from face to face around the informal circle we had formed.
The others nodded in acknowledgement as I tried to explain, as dictated by my over explanatory nature, how I was born in a small Iowa town not far from where the plane crashed, so, yes, of course I was familiar. I have always been a bit of a know-it-all, and in high school this tendency was at its worst. Robbie just smiled, waiting for me to finish, nodding as I finished my unneeded soliloquy.
For those out there that may be unfamiliar, Buddy Holly was a famous American singer-songwriter who tragically died when a plane crashed on February 3, 1959 into a cornfield between Clear Lake and my native Forest City following a show at the Surf Ballroom. Don McLean would forever immortalize the event in his classic song, “American Pie,” by dubbing that ‘the day the music died.’
“You know how they blamed the crash on the pilot being untrained and the icy weather and all that?” Robbie asked.
“Well, let me tell you, that isn’t how it went down,” he said.
We all exchanged ‘yeah, right’ looks around the circle as we tried to avoid the glances Robbie was actively shooting in each of our directions to gauge our interest. Dustin, our sometimes guitarist, sometimes bassist, gave me a wide-eyed look to suggest that he wasn’t necessarily buying it.
“My old man was the insurance claims adjuster for the company that examined the wreckage,” Robbie said in the hopes of establishing better credibility.
“He would always tell me how there was more to the crash than anyone knows, like there was a big cover up or something.”
Again those of us assembled to hear the story exchanged looks, John fumbling to extract another Parliament Light from its hard pack, Fatty raising his eyebrows to suggest that John should bum him another smoke.
“Sheesh, man, these are like seven bucks a pack,” said John disdainfully before eventually handing one over.
“Now boys, focus in,” said Robbie, pulling us back into his story.
“Not all was how it seemed that night.”
“There was some bad blood there or something because it sure wasn’t ice that brought down that plane,” he said.
“My dad swore to me on his honor that there was foul play, but since everyone died there was no way to prove exactly what happened.”
We had all been hooked, eyes fixated on Robbie as he slowly pulled out another Capri 100.
“There was a bullet hole in the ceiling of the plane, and in the wreckage they found a pistol,” he said.
There he stopped, taking a sip from his beer before lighting his cigarette. The grating noise made by the metallic wheel of the cheap plastic lighter was the only sound other than cicadas as the four of us sat staring at him in the growing twilight.
“No one really knows what happened, or why they wanted it covered up so bad,” he said in a deflating way that let us know the story had ended.
“But why?” we all asked in unison.
“No one really knows, but someday somebody is going to look into it and find out some things that were left out of that original account,” he said, closing the subject.
At the time we all just let it go as one of Robbie’s timeless stories, so many of which stick in my head today as the best examples of story telling I have ever had the opportunity to hear. It faded into the back of my mind, growing distorted like memories do through the years as we disbanded, grew apart, and eventually grew out of that small town.
Yesterday afternoon during the dullest part of the work day, a story from the local television station shook the cobwebs from my memory and sent me back to that sun soaked afternoon on the back patio of the Bravo Hotel. The headline read: “A new look a the Buddy Holly crash?” I blinked, straining to remember what exactly Robbie had said before the realization creeped over my mind that the four teenagers listening might have been the only ones on that patio blowing smoke.
(Here is the link to the KIMT story: http://kimt.com/2015/03/04/a-new-look-at-the-buddy-holly-crash/)