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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bring Back La Bamba!

On this date, 50 years ago, on 1959 February 3, a Tuesday like this one, a small plane (perhaps named "Miss American Pie") crashed in Iowa, killing three musicians and the pilot. It cut short the careers of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. At this time these were the most prominent rock singers, and it seemed that there was nothing left after they died. So it was The Day that the Music Died. This was immortalized in the song "Miss American Pie" by Don McLean in 1969. And the lyrics went "Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry, Good ol' boys drinking whisky and rye, singing 'This'll be the day that I die, This'll be the day that I die.'"

But although the singers died, their music didn't. We still hear their music today, including the music of Ritchie Valens. One of Valens' songs, "La Bamba", reached SUUSI and became first a hit, and then a tradition at SUUSI. When I came to SUUSI in 1986, and then 1992, I found this tradition, wherein every midnight a special version of "La Bamba" was played and the dancers would alternate between long, sinuous, sometimes confusing conga lines and free-form dancing with everyone dancing by themselves. It was a dance everyone could participate in.

But in 1999 something happened. Suddenly La Bamba was despised. A board was erected entitled "SUUSI 2020" and one of the items scribbled on that board wanted a 4-minute La Bamba. Some other comments were made. The board was put up on 1999 July 26, and to me that is The Day La Bamba Died. A little later, I saw an email using La Bamba as a "sentence", as in jail. Our DJ at that time used the misconceived solution of randomly selecting a conga with a bicycle wheel. In 2001 this resulted in several playings of the traditional La Bamba, and for once the dance scene seemed good.

But in 2002, there was no La Bamba. In later years, sometimes someone would request La Bamba, or people formed conga lines to whatever number was played at midnight, including one night when it was a groovy jazz number totally unlike La Bamba. But there was no La Bamba in 2002, or in 2003, or in any year since.

And it wasn't only La Bamba that died. The men's and women's dances went as well, and shortly after that the line dances. There were some interesting innovations, such as a beach night with beach balls, and the costume parties still continued. However, in 2007 the costume party went, and in 2008 even the themes. The result was the most drab, uninteresting Serendipity I have ever been to. It seemed like all the dance music was dying. Do we drive our Chevies to SUUSI every year, only to find Serendipity's levees dry? It was The Day the Music Died. It was the Day La Bamba Died. What's next? The Day Serendipity dies?

Let us honor those three men who tried to bring music to us that were killed in that tragic plane crash 50 years ago today, including Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Play "Miss American Pie" at least once today. And play it at least once at Serendipity. And let us honor Ritchie Valens in particular, who wrote the music that gave SUUSIites so much fun at the Midnight Hour every year, until, like Valens, it died in 1999. Please don't let Serendipity die. I call for a return of interesting things to Serendipity in 2009, including La Bamba.


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