I was about nine years old when Don McLean’s agonizingly lengthy song “American Pie” came out. It was a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper – popular musicians from before my time who died in a plane crash on Feb 3, 1959. I remember that song would start playing on the car radio on the way to the grocery store, and would still be playing when we got back into the car after filling a whole shopping cart and waiting in line behind three other people. I never knew what “the day the music died” meant until I was older. And this week, coincidentally 57 years to the day when those three iconic artists perished, is when my music died.
Everyone who knows me thinks Billy Squier is my number one, my main man, my all-time favorite musician. Well, he’s certainly up there in the top two. I didn’t leave my hand unwashed for three years after he grabbed it because I think he’s just so-so. He’s the Bill-Man, after all. But there was someone before him. And his name was Maurice White.
I just read that Maurice passed away. It’s funny that we don’t know our favorite artists personally, but they become such a big part of our life that when we lose them, it’s like losing a good friend. I think most people from my generation will agree that Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the best bands ever. I own almost every album they ever made. And if you’re a true EWF fan, you know that it’s not their popular hit songs that are the best, but it’s all those others on their albums that never got radio play. Maurice could write and sing some seriously uplifting, mystical, spiritual, bad-ass lyrics. And who can sit still when “Shining Star” or “Let’s Groove” comes on the radio? I must’ve listened to those albums thousands and thousands of times. I played them every day through junior high and high school. We danced to their music every day after school in the family room and memorized the lyrics wearing those big ‘ol headphones on our ears. I think it’s safe to say I grew up on EWF.
Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/gjhall/14034306459/”>VibeRide</a> via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com”>Visual hunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>
I think it was in 1981 when I went with friends to see EWF for the first time. It was bittersweet. See, although Maurice and the rest of my favorite group was right there on stage 20 feet away from me, I couldn’t see them because some guy with the WORLD’S BIGGEST AFRO was standing right in front of me the whole time. I’m not kidding, that thing was like a tiny planet. Plus, I had to pee worse than I ever had to pee in my entire life. And there was no getting out of that crowd I was smashed into to try to find a bathroom. Have you ever had to pee so bad that after an hour or so, the feeling goes away? Well, that actually happened. Either that or my bladder fell out and I didn’t notice. To add insult to injury, the guy who asked me to be his date that night flirted with my friend throughout the entire evening. But still, I could hear EWF, and caught glimpses of Maurice every now and then when the afro guy bopped his head to the side. And it was freakin’ awesome.
I saw them again about 10 years ago, and it was just as awesome. Even when I listen to them now, I feel like I’m 16 again. I can close my eyes and I’m right back in my old family room, at the dance, at a party or cruising the “J” in a friend’s car. Luckily, the music doesn’t really die. Maurice and all the others who have left this place have graciously left their music behind.
But, Billy Squier, if you’re reading this, don’t EVER die. I’m not having it.