Jill Tallman

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

February 2, 2009 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Thirty-eight years ago, when Don McLean released “American Pie,” few if any of my 12-year-old friends knew the backstory: that it begins with McLean’s memories of “the day the music died”–the night Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper and their pilot crashed in a snow-coverered field in Iowa. We just knew we liked the song. (I had the 45.) If we were lucky, the deejay on our AM station played the full version, but most of the time he didn’t. (It was almost nine minutes long, after all.)

Likely you’re seeing a lot of media accounts of that crash this week on its fiftieth anniversary. If you haven’t already, grab the February 2009 issue of AOPA Pilot and read Bruce Landsberg’s thoughtful article. It’s a tragic chapter in history made sadder still by the realization that, 50 years later, VFR-into-IMC is still taking lives. Audiophiles note: The Feb. 3 edition of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered  featured Landsberg talking about how pilots can avoid such accidents.

Tags: ,

6 Responses to “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie”

  1. Alex Kovnat Says:

    Considering how important Buddy Holly was to pop music history, I consider it shocking that one Roger Peterson, who wasn’t instrument rated and wasn’t familiar with the instrumentation in the plane he was flying, was entrusted with the lives of Buddy and two other well-known performers.

    Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this 50 year old tragedy is, if you are a prominent person (rock performer or otherwise) NEVER pressure your pilot to make a flight – you are endangering his or her life as well as your own. And if you are a pilot entrusted with the lives of VIP’s, DON’T let their stature intimidate you. If any future Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Patsy Cline, etc. tries to pressure you into making a flight under conditions beyond your capability, tell said VIP/celebrity to go to hell.

  2. Mark McCormick Says:

    And when you refuse the flight you WILL PROBABLY BE FIRED! I know. Been there. Also, don’t think that the life of a VIP is more important than everyone else’s.

  3. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >Also, don’t think that the life of a VIP is more important than everyone else’s.

    That is exactly why pilots should stand up to egotistical celebrity/VIP’s!

    As I said, the pilot’s life is at risk too and also: What if that Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly et al, were to have crashed into someone’s house? It so happens that in the area where I live, there was in fact a tragedy years ago in which a Beech Model 18 operated by a fly-by-night outfit, crashed into a home and took the lives of the parents of three young children.

  4. David Reinhart Says:

    One newspaper report I’ve seen regarding the anniversary of this accident said that the Bonanza was named “Miss American Pie” and that’s where Don McLean got the name of the song. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. Anybody else heard that particular factoid?

  5. Jill Tallman Says:

    Don McLean debunks that as an urban legend on his Web site, which I’ve linked in the blog entry. It’s a pretty interesting read. As McLean says, “I was poor when I wrote it, but it made me a millionaire overnight.”

  6. David Reinhart Says:


    That’s what I thought. I’ve read a number of statements by Don McLean about the lyrics and never saw that. I’m not surprised that our local paper bought into that particular myth.

Leave a Reply