Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How the Music Died Part II

Welcome to part two of my series "How the Music Died." Here I am examining the remarkable transformation (some may go so far as to describe it as a subtle war) rock 'n' roll went through from the period of 1959 to 1969 via the prism of two songs. The first is the classic "American Pie" by Don McLean, which I shall examine in this installment. The second is a song by the 1970s metal band Blue Oyster Cult, which I'll get around to in a future installment. 

As many of you are probably aware, the song "American Pie" was partly inspired by the sudden and tragic death of Buddy Holly. Holly's death was incredibly significant in the cultural history of these United States, as I began to explore in part one of this series. Holly's death, which occurred on February 3, 1959, it was one of two events that bookends "American Pie." The other event is the notorious Altamont Free Concert, which went down in 1969. With that in mind, let us begin my examination of McLean's epic.

Buddy Holly (top) and scenes from Altamont (bottom)
First I'll start with the classic chorus. For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past few decades, it goes:
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys drinkin' whiskey in Rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die
The American Pie of the title and the chorus is rock 'n' roll itself. Rock 'n' roll is very important, as I hope this post will make clear. It is a quintessential piece of Americana  --It is an art form born of many different cultures, taking pieces of blues, R & B, folk, country and even gospel music in its signature sound and emerging with something that is distinctly American. What's more, it was a thoroughly populist movement in its earliest inception, a mutant that stood in contrast to the monolithic record industry of the day that was even then angling for a stranglehold on popular taste. As such, it was almost immediately targeted by what rogue historian Peter Levenda has dubbed 'sinister forces.' Note the twilight language running throughout the following description of the rise of rock 'n' roll:
"After World War II music really began to take off. Suddenly whole new fields were emerging: jump blues, hillbilly boogie, Western swing, and Chicago blues with amplified guitars. As grassroots movements, these disparate genres were virtually ignored by the record industry or grudgingly serviced via subsidiary labels. But no matter --the important postwar music was waxed gladly by independent record companies serving local and regional audiences. 
"One such label, Memphis' Sun Records, essentially launched rock 'n' roll by discovering a young hillbilly who could sing the blues. As soon as they heard Elvis, thousands of other musicians said, 'I can do that too!' Thus rockabilly was born... in my view, rockabilly was the first wave what we know call 'punk rock,' in which countless local artists defined a kind of uncompromising sound (and style) that was never really commercially successful, yet, in retrospect, can be seen to have been hugely influential. 
"Well, as you can imagine, the big record companies didn't care for this one bit. They had stars like Patti Page, whom we were expected to support. So they got behind a few clean-cut teens like Paul Anka and slammed the door on everyone else."
(Nuggets Volume I box set booklet, "Sic Transit Gloria...: The Story of Punk Rock in the 60s," Greg Shaw, pg. 18)
Or so the record labels thought. The levee of line two is the well of inspiration that rock 'n' roll inspired, spurring countless kids to begin trying their hand at it. Water, which levees control, is a symbol of life, cleansing, and regeneration. Areas where water has been stored, such as springs or wells, are typically considered joyous places where miracles occur. Noting the Biblical associations of water, Chevalier and Gheerbrant's Dictionary of Symbols remarks "Without water the nomad would have been doomed to burning death under the Palestinian sun, so the water which he found in his wanderings was like manna: as it quenched his thirst it fed him too" (pg. 1083). Holly's death was also the death of rock 'n' roll in its purest form, hence the reason why the levee is now dry. McLean uses a classic image of an American youth driving his pickup to the outskirts of town, possibly for a party or maybe just a little fishing, but finding only disappointment.

The good ole boys drinking whiskey in Rye are clearly Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, all of whom died in the same plane crash. Holly and the Big Bopper were originally from Texas, which may be why McLean refers to them as 'good ole boys.' Buddy Holly's only number one single was a song called "That'll Be the Day," which is referenced in the fourth and fifth lines. It has long been rumored that Holly, as well as Valens and the Bopper had some kind of forewarning of their respective deaths, as I noted in part one. I suspect this is what is being alluded in the "day that I die" bit.

Left to right: the Bopper, Valens and Holly, the 'good ole boys'
The first verse of the song goes:
A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I delivered
Bad news on the door step
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died...
In 1959 Don McLean was a paperboy dreaming of becoming a rock star someday. But then February 3rd rolled around, and he learned of Holly's death in the early morning hours as he was doing his paper route. The part about Holly's widowed bride is an allusion to the fact that Maria Elena Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after learning of her husband's death. At the time McLean was aware that something profound had happened, but he did not understand it. In the second verse, he recounts the era Buddy Holly symbolized:
Did you write the book of love?
And do you have faith in God above?
If the Bible tells you so
Now do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
Well, I know that you're in love with him
Cause I saw you dancin' in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man I dig them rhythm and blues
I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died
Several of the lyrics in this verse are titles and phrases from several popular 1950s songs, especially the first three lines. The Monotones had a big hit single called "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" in 1958 while Don Cornell released "The Bible Tells Me So" in 1955. The bit about music saving one's mortal soul is partly a hint at the direct spiritual experience rock offered as opposed to the increasingly sterile environment organized religion was falling prey to; and part an allusion to the social transformation rock 'n' roll was bringing about. The younger generation was slowly turning away from the militarism of their parents and embracing things such as the slow dance. The slow dance was a quintessential part of 1950s rock culture, and a hint at loosening taboos concerning sex. The first three lines of the third verse continue with this theme, using the image of two kids kicking off their shoes (taking ones shoes off is a sign of being comfortable in American culture) for a sock hop to hint at the budding sexuality of the era.

Records from the 1950s (top left and right) and a sock hop (bottom)
Rhythm and blues was what black music was called in those days. McLean's proclamation of "digging those rhythm and blues" is alluding to the racial barriers that were coming down along with the sexual taboos. The final lines are about McLean indulging in the fads of the era (it was fashionable for men to wear a pink carnations during dates, as Marty Robbins' 1957 hit "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation" attests too), i.e. having sex with girls in the back of his pickup truck. And yet McLean is able sense the hollowness of it all, in contrast to the feeling good rock 'n' roll inspires. The song becomes much more serious in the fourth verse:
Now for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rolling stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me
Oh and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned
And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
Singing dirges after in the dark
The day the music died...
The first two lines introduce the bookend events of the song: Buddy Holly's death and the Altamont Free Concert the Rolling Stones put on in 1969 that was intended to be the West coast's answer to Woodstock. Ten years separated the two events. The jester is superficially Bob Dylan while the King and Queen are JFK and the First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Dylan famously referred to himself as the Joker in the opening of his classic "All Along he Watchtower." The Joker and the Jester are both types of the Fool archetype.

the King and Queen
Bob Dylan performed at the legendary March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. famously made his "I Have a Dream" speech. The Kennedys watched the event on television. On the cover of his second and breakthrough album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, he appears in a jacket remarkably similar to the one James Dean wore the classic Rebel Without a Cause. Dylan spoke with "a voice that came from you and me" because he was influenced by the folk tradition that was historically the music of the common peoples. The combination of the voice of the plebs and Dean's jacket hints at the rapid commercialization of previously underground traditions.

the Jester (top) in a coat he borrowed from James Dean (bottom)
Lines seven and eight deal with the cultural shift that occurred after Kennedy's assassination. The concept of the Kennedy presidency as a kind of modern day Camelot dominated American culture up until JFK's murder. Kennedy's death left a void and it was soon filled by rock 'n' roll. The Examiner remarks:
"Some authors who have analyzed the Beatles' rise in America say the assassination of JFK caused Americans to search for something to help them forget the shock and the pain and the Beatles helped ease it. But the Beatles didn't really need that kind of boost. They'd achieved huge fame in England and it was only a matter of time for America to be conquered. And they were -- America and the rest of the world embraced them after their rise to fame through the rest of the decade. Like the Kennedys, the Beatles were constantly in the news. And like the Kennedys, they were loved and adored. 
In 1980, Jack Garner of Gannett News Service wrote, 'The death of JFK swiftly ended the nation's calm optimism, the deceptively carefree feeling that all was right with the world. The young, in particular, felt a distinct loss of leadership and of direction. They also had felt a crumbling of taste and values In the music to which they were listening. The void was filled by a British rock 'n' roll band. Just as most people can remember exactly what they were doing when Kennedy was killed, many can also remember the first time they heard the Beatles.'"
And yet McLean uses the Jester, who is clearly Dylan, rather than Beatles (who are referenced later in this verse), who most definitely spearheaded rock 'n' roll's rise. This may have simply been poetic license  It also may have been an allusion to the fact that Dylan partly inspired the Beatles to politicalize their music, i.e. he took up the banner from Kennedy and passed it on to the Fabs. Those of you familiar with the mythological concept of the killing of the divine king will find a very different meaning in these lines.
"...the Matriarchal... Age, to the time when succession was not through the first-born son of the King, but through his daughter. The king was therefore not king by inheritance, but by right on conquest. In the most stable dynasties, the new king was always a stranger, a foreigner; what is more, he had to kill the old king and marry that king's daughter. This system ensured the virility and capacity of every king. The stranger had to win his bride in open competition. In the oldest fairy-tales, this motive is continually repeated. The ambitious stranger is often a troubadour; nearly always he is disguised, often in repulsive form... Here then is the foundation of the legend of the Wandering Prince --and, note well, he is always 'the fool of the family.' The connection between foolishness and holiness is traditional."
(The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley, pgs. 54-55)
As noted above, both the Joker and the Jester are variations on the Fool archetype. The Fool is in turn a form of the Wandering Prince who slays the king and marries the king's daughter, thus becoming king himself. Those of you that are familiar with James Shelby Downard's concept of the Kennedy assassination as a modern reenactment of the Killing of the Divine King rite should be especially struck by this line. McLean wrote the lyrics to this song in 1971 while Downard's theories concerning the Kennedy assassination did not gain widespread audience until they were briefly mentioned in Robert Anton Wilson's The Cosmic Trigger Volume I in 1977. Whether this is actually what McLean was driving at (highly doubtful) or whether he intuitively sensed the actual nature of the Kennedy assassination, I know not. I suspect he knew something was up as the following lines ("The courtroom was adjourned/No verdict was returned") seem to be a jab at the Warren commission.

And while the King was looking down (top) the Jester (bottom) stole his thorny crown?
Another far out possibility is that the Jester in the "Oh and when the king was looking down/The jester stole his thorny crown" line is the Beatles as a resurrected Buddy Holly. In part one of this series I noted that holly is the tree of the mythological figure of the Green Knight, who is sometimes also called the holly-king. Buddy Holly was the reigning king of rock 'n' roll at the time of his death, thus he was a kind of holly-king. The Green Knight, in turn, has been linked with the Green Man, a figure closely associated with the Fool archetype.
"The Green Man is a personification of the mysterious influence that produces the phenomena of spring. It is hard to say why it should be so, but it is so: there is a connection with the ideas of irresponsibility, of wantonness, of idealization, of romance, of starry dreaming. 
"The Fool stirs within all of us the return of Spring, and because we are a little bewildered, a little embarrassed, it has been thought a salutary custom to externalize the subconscious impulse by ceremonial means."
(ibid, pg. 56)

In The White Goddess Robert Graves notes that a common legend associated with the Green Knight is that he and the knight Gawain of the Arthurian cycle make a compact to behead one another in Midsummer and Midwinter. Gawain is a personification of the Oak King, the counterpart to the Green Knight's Holly-king. Each is resurrected with the seasons so that they can endlessly do battle.
"...the holly-king, or green knight, who appears in the old English "Christmas Play', a survival of the Saturnalia, as the Fool who is beheaded but rises again unhurt."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 196)
This tradition likely originates from ancient times when a ceremonial king was ritualistically sacrificed to replenish the fertility of the land, as Crowley hints at above. In this context, the Holly-king (Buddy Holly) is sacrificed, giving way to the Oak King. In this case, the Oak King is JFK, who was elected president the following year (1960) and inaugurated just 14 days shy of a full two years after Holly's death. When JFK was assassinated (Kennedy was buried next to the famous Arlington Oak, which shaded his grave), he gave way to the new Holly-King: the Beatles, who had their first #1 hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," in the US on February 1, 1964 --almost exactly five years after Holly's death.

The Beatles were in many ways a resurrected form of Buddy Holly --their very name was a play on the insect name of Holly's backing band, the Crickets. The Beatles employed the duel guitar plus rhythm section format Holly popularized and copied some of his sound in their earlier recordings. John Lennon's early image, especially in terms of his glasses, were closely modeled after Holly.

Holly (top) and John Lennon (bottom) in the early years
As outlandish as this may sound, I don't think that its a coincidence that the next line ("...while Lenin read a book on Marx") after the Warren Commission jab is direct reference to the radical politics and philosophies Lennon would embrace as the 1960s wore on. Lennon's work in the Beatles would in turn spread this ideology to a generation of impressionable teenagers. "The Beatles were the foremost lyrical spokesmen for an entire generation; millions worshiped their verse as holy writing" Lee and Shlain write in Acid Dreams (pg. 179).

And yet, even as an entire generation became obsessed with Beatlemania, there were countless other local rock acts putting out great, mind-bending music throughout the decade. Many of them used the four piece, two guitar, bass and drums format popularized by Buddy Holly. The performed within their local spheres, but rarely gained national attention, hence they performed "dirges in the dark." We'll get to these groups in just a moment. For the time being, let's move on to the next verse:
Helter Skelter in the summer swelter
The birds flew off to a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With jester on the sideline in a cast
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While sergeant's band played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
The first half of this verse chronicles the rapid descent of the Haight-Ashbury scene, the capital of the US hippie culture, into drug addition and violence.
"Enticed by invitations to come live the hippie life, thousands of teenagers from all over the States descended on San Francisco in the summer of 1967. But the psychedelic dream soon became a nightmare. The numbers were too great, and most of the new arrivals ended up hungry and on the streets, prey to the pimps and drug dealers that had quickly moved in. With fifteen thousand hippies already living on the Haight, the original small community of psychedelic mutants found itself swamped by the flood of youth. Discrimination ebbed. Speed --amphetamine-- a cheap substitute for acid, soon became the prevalent drug, and rape was not uncommon."
(Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pg. 302)

The first line is a reference to Charles Manson, who allegedly dubbed his killing spree 'Helter Skelter' after a Beatles song he believed chronicled the coming apocalypse. The second, third, and fourth lines are a jab the Byrds, who scored a big hit with "Eight Miles High," the first mainstream bid at a psychedelic number. Terry Melcher, who produced the Byrds, ran afoul of Manson and feared that he was on the Family's hit list. He wasn't the only one.
"By the summer of 1969 fear sent the affluent and decadent denizens of LA's Sunset Strip scurrying out of clubs like the Whiskey A Go Go and into heavily secured safe houses. Eyes peered through bamboo-shaded windows for any sign of the maniac who had it in for the rich and privileged. Manson had turned the good vibrations of surfin' '66 into a fringe-jacketed version of Apocalypse Now.
(ibid, pgs. 329-330)

Perhaps the Byrds, who were based out of LA, flew off to one of these fallout shelters. The last part about landing in the grass could be an allusion to the flight many hippies took out of increasingly violent urban areas into the country side.
"...many other disenchanted hippies and flower children move on in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of them found refuge in the hundreds of square miles of sparsely settled wilderness offered by the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the abundance of rich soil and clear, running water provided ideal conditions for communal living and marijuana cultivation. By 1972, some seventeen thousand men, women, and children had taken up residence in the fertile glens and along the rich creek beds of Santa Cruz.
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pgs. 134-135) 
Talk about landing on the grass. The following lines after this deal with the vast underground rock 'n' roll scene that had developed in the US during the mid-1960s, and how it was relentlessly beaten back by the powers that be. You see, one of the coolest, if rarely mentioned, scenes the 1960s spawned is what is now referred to as 'garage rock.' Originally, though, it was dubbed punk rock by garage enthusiasts like Lenny Kaye, the future guitarist for Patti Smith. The phrase 'punk rock' was later co-opted by British outfits like the Damned and the Sex Pistols to describe the fast, raw, back-to-basics rock they specialized in, but arguably no movement deserved the punk brand more than those 1960s garage bands. Some of them like Blue Cheer and the 13th Floor Elevators released albums on par with anything the big acts of that era released. Others only had one or two big songs, but they still managed sentiments a bunch of rich Brits could never capture --just dig the anti-establishment vibes of the Groupie's "Primitive."

two classic albums by Blue Cheer (top) and the 13th Floor Elevators (bottom)

This scene basically consisted of locals bands, many of whom literally wrote and rehearsed songs out of their parents' garage (hence the name), who briefly challenged the big boys in the middle of the decade. This was not especially pleasing to corporate America, which has generally gone out of its way to ignore and downplay the garage rock era. But a few music geeks would preserve the garage sound on assorted complications such as the various Nuggets releases, thus spawning future movements along the same principals (i.e. punk and underground metal) and ensuring a major thorn remained in the music industry's side. But there never was again anything quite like the rebellion garage rock hinted at and the secret it revealed.
"... why rock has been such an unstoppable force in all our lives: anybody can do it!
"If this statement comes as a surprise, or you find yourself saying, 'Wait a minute...,' it's because this is a more closely guarded secret than the recipe for the Colonel's chicken. The record industry goes totally bananas when kids start making their own music. They spend a fortune signing every band in sight, then winnow out the ones who aren't 'professional' enough, lose a million or so bucks on each, and finally market the remaining handful as 'superstars' whose products we, in turn, will consume like dutiful sheep for years and years, until the next upheaval. That's the only way they can keep their fingers around the collective neck of the record buying public. 
"I fear that few, if any, of the artists on Nuggets measure up to the record industry's standards. Each came out of some suburban garage, and each, within a brief period (from 1965 to about 1968), somehow got themselves onto the radio with one monster song they created after maybe three weeks of music lessons. Those songs were grabbed up by kids who wanted to be just like them --and tried. It was so out of control that for a few years something like 63 percent of American kids under the age of 20 were in a rock band of some kind, and most of them were making records. 
"The only way The Man could put a stop to this barrage of bands was to send half the kids to Vietnam and the change the rules of radio so that DJs weren't allowed to play local records anymore. Finally, around 1970, things settled down. No more Purple Exploding Mushroom Band nonsense --you could have Carole King or Elton John, take it or leave it. (If you behaved yourself and bought all the Taylor family's releases, they might be nice and let you have Badfinger for dessert.) The record companies started getting rich again, and kids forgot about rock 'n' roll... for awhile."
(Nuggets Volume I box set booklet, "Sic Transit Gloria...: The Story of Punk Rock in the '60s," Greg Shaw, pgs. 17-18)
For the later part of verse four McLean uses American football as a metaphor for the war that was unfolding within rock 'n' roll. The players are the garage rockers, American teens trying to live out their dreams of becoming rock stars, not unlike McLean himself when Buddy Holly died. The bit about the "jester on the sideline in a cast" is a reference to the motorcycle accident Bob Dylan was in in 1966 which kept him out of music for almost two years. The lines "Now the half time air was sweet perfume/While the sergeant's band played a marching tune" is an allusion to the vast underground music scene of the mid-1960s (the sweet perfume) that was largely ignored while the media remained focused on the Beatles, whose 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heats Club Band was hailed as the definitive record of the first psychedelic era. The Beatles are described as playing a marching tune as they were a big part of the radicalization of the hippie movement which quickly spiraled into violence, as noted above.

the Players (top) and the marching band (bottom)
The part about the players trying to take the field and the marching band refusing to yield is likely a jab at the Beatles for joining the record industry's hierarchy when they founded Apple Records in 1968 (the Beatles were who originally signed Badfinger, one of the 'trailblazers' of soulless arena rock that would begin to dominate the gerne in the 1970s). Again I'm struck by the parallels between the language McLean employs in this song and the theories of Downard and Michael A. Hoffman in regards to the final two lines of this verse: "Do you recall what was revealed/ The day the music died?" This echoes Hoffman's concept of 'Revelation of the method' years before Hoffman likely even coined it.

The fifth verse deals almost solely with the infamous Altamont Free Concert. The Rolling Stones intended for it to be the West Coast's answer to Woodstock but it will forever be linked with the death of the 1960s, along with the Manson killings. At the time of the concert Stones frontman Mick Jagger was under the thumb (har har) of notorious occultist Kenneth Anger (who was, coincidentally, born on the same date Buddy Holly met his demise: February 3). Anger, a filmmaker and follower of Aleister Crowley, is probably best known for the film Lucifer Rising. The film originally cast Manson associate and future convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil in the lead role, but Beausoleil and Anger had a brief falling out that brought the production a halt when parts of the film turned up missing. Undaunted, Anger approached Mick Jagger about taking up the role of Lucifer that Beausoleil had vacated. At the time the Stones were at the height of their own obsession with the occult, thus Mick warmed up to Anger. Anger would briefly become a kind of spiritual adviser to Mick, with his influence being most evident at Altamont.

Kenneth Anger
The Altamont Free Concert occurred on December 6, 1969. This five, almost six, years after the Beatles' rise to stardom. While the Beatles breakthrough is considered the beginning of the 'Golden Age' of rock, Altamont is considered by some to be its end. That the Stones would be the ones to wrap things up is rather fitting. The Stones were always marketed as the dark side of the Beatles --the yin to the Fabs' yang, if you will. The Beatles wanted you to Let It Be; the Stones just wanted you to Let It Bleed. And bleed it did.

More curiously, Altamont occurred ten years and 306 days after the death of Buddy Holly --Note the occurrence of 36 in this sequence. The number 36 has some degree of occult importance.
"Thirty-six is the number of Heaven, seventy-two of Earth and 108 of mankind. Thirty-six, seventy-two and 108 bear the same interrelationship as one, two and three. An isosceles triangle with an angle of 108º at the apex provides the proportions of the Golden Number and, in fact, displays a particularly harmonious appearance. In different ways, thirty-six, seventy-two and 108 were the favorite numbers among secret societies."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 989)
If Altamont was meant to represent heaven it certainly missed the mark by quite a bit. The date of December 6 has other mystical significance, as I suspect Anger was well aware. In general Anger's influence was evident in numerous aspects of the show.
"Against the advice of local astrologers, who warned that the stars weren't well disposed to the plan, the Stones went ahead with their free concert at the decaying race track on 6 December 1969. During the North American tour Jagger sported a top hat like Beausoleil's and, for the fatal concert itself, his chest was emblazoned with the Greek letter omega, signifying 'the end'. Both seem apt indications of things to come.  
"Even before the trouble began, witnesses spoke of the zombie-like look on the people filing in. Anger might have warned the Stones that it wouldn't go down well. 6 December was the date that Crowley and Victor Neuberg raised Choronzon, the demon of chaos and confusion, in the North African desert. But I wonder if Anger's occult tutoring swelled Jagger's head until he thought he really was Lucifer; the magic potions Jagger was partial to might have helped. If so, he had a rude awakening.   
"Lulled by their English counterparts into thinking he could control echt Hell's Angels... Jagger hired the Californian counterculture brownshirts to maintain security for the 300,000 plus crowd. Payment was a $500 supply of beer: in those days, a lot of brew. That, combined with the rotten acid that spread through the crowd, led to an invocation of quite a few demon brothers. Timothy Leary, who arrived with the Stones, flashed his trademark manic grin at the sea of imminent bummers. Support acts Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young could feel the fever rising. The upshot was that a band of skyhigh troglodytes armed with pool cues and carte blanche terrorized a portable hippie city for a day...  
"...As the Angels brought their magic wands down on the hapless audience at Altamont, a pale Jagger, out of his depths, made feeble attempts to quell the violence. But the Angels weren't having any of it, and in the film of that fatal tour, Gimmie Shelter, the Stones look as if they are playing for their lives, pouring out a recital of bad taste with numbers like "Sympathy", "Under My Thumb" and "Midnight Rambler," Jagger and Richards ill-chosen paean to serial killer Albert de Salvo, the Boston Strangler. The love and peace of Woodstock, only four months earlier, had dissipated; the Aquarian generation, held together by the myth of the approaching New Age, was coming apart at the seams.  
"By the end, one blitzed-out teenager --eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter-- who for unknown reasons had pulled a gun, was knifed to death by the holy barbarians. Several people were beaten badly, hundreds more terrorized. The Angels themselves, shown scenes of their handiwork... commented 'out of sight...' "
(Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pgs. 306-308)

Jagger at Altamont (top) and below the infamous stabbing of Meredith Hunter (the Green Man)
As to the bizarre occult ritual Crowley performed on December 6 years earlier, Lachman writes:
"With Neuberg as his chela and scribe, Crowley tramped the North African desert in November and  December 1909, invoking the Aethyrs at about one a day... 
"Part of the rites included a homosexual act, with Crowley as the passive partner. After invoking the fourteenth Aethyr on 3 December, they climbed Mount Dal'leh Addin, built an altar and magic circle of stones, wrote occult formulae in the sand, and had intercourse. They dedicated the act to the great god Pan. 
"But the high point of the... operation was... the tenth Aethyr, the invocation of the demon Chaos and the Abyss, Choronzon. This they performed on 6 December. (Strangely enough, sixty years later the Rolling Stones would give their disastrous concert at Altamont on the same date.) 
"In an unprecedented variation, Crowley would not evoke Choronzon to physical appearance within the traditional magic triangle, but would himself sit within it, allowing the demon to possess him. The cabbalistic names of God --Tetragrammaton, Shaddai el Chai and Ararita --were traced in the sand around the magic circle that would protect Neuberg, the scribe. To ensure a successful operation, three pigeons brought from Bou Saada were sacrificed, the blood from their slit throats supplying the subtle energies needed for Choronzon's manifestation."
(ibid, pgs. 197-198)
The notorious magician Aleister Crowley, who performed a bizarre ritual exactly 60 years prior to the Altamont Free Concert, also appeared on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's (above)
Another Crowley disciple, Kenneth Grant, had this to say of the demon Choronzon:
"The Demon of Dispersion and Confusion. Its number is 333 which is also that of Impotence and lack of control, thus identifying these concepts. Dr. Dee described this 'demon' as quintessentialising the metaphysical antithesis of all that is implied by 'Magic.'"
(The Magical Revival, pgs. 217-218)
I find it most interesting that this being is associated with antithesis. As noted implied above, the Altamont Free Concert was the antithesis of everything the hippie/peace movement supposedly stood for. I strongly suspect that Kenneth Anger, who was also a follower of Crowley, was well aware of this association when the Stones took the stage at Altamont. Could this be the reason why Jagger was sporting the Greek letter for omega, which means 'the end,' on his shirt?

If this wasn't ritualistic enough, Meredith Hunter was murdered by the Angels while the Stones were in the midst of performing "Sympathy for the Devil." Of course, this has long been denied. Traditional accounts assert that Hunter was murdered while "Under My Thumb" was being performed, but the great David McGowan has compellingly argued that it was in fact "Sympathy" that was being played:
"The death that the concert at Altamont will always be remembered for, of course, is that of Meredith Hunter, the young man who was stabbed to death by members of the Hell’s Angels right in front of the stage while the band (in this case, the Rolling Stones) played on. The song they were playing, contrary to most accounts of the incident, was Sympathy for the Devil, as was initially reported in Rolling Stone magazine based on the accounts of several reporters on the scene and a review of the unedited film stock.
"Most accounts claim that Hunter was killed while the band performed Under My Thumb. All such claims are based on the mainstream snuff film Gimme Shelter, in which the killing was deliberately presented out of sequence. In the absence of any alternative filmic versions of Hunter’s death, the Maysles brothers’ film became the default official orthodoxy. Of course, someone went to great lengths to insure that there would be only one available version of events; as Rolling Stone also reported, shortly after the concert, 'One weird Altamont story has to do with a young Berkeley filmmaker who claims to have gotten 8MM footage of the killing. He got home from the affair Saturday and began telling his friends about his amazing film. His house was knocked over the next night, completely rifled. The thief took only his film, nothing else.'"
With all of this in mind, now consider the fifth verse of "American Pie":
Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again
So come one Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
Cause fire is the devil's only friend
And as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rag
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan's spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died...
Hell's Angels clubbing folks at Altamont
Again, we find traces of Downard and Hoffman. The allusions to the Apollo 11 moon landing (as well as the uber-cheesy 1960s TV series Lost in Space) factor heavily in their theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination, first outlined in the "King Kill 33" essay. The 'Jack' in this verse is both a reference to the famous Stones song "Jumpin Jack Flash" as well as JFK. As the verse progresses, McLean outlines Meredith Hunter's shocking death at the hands of the Hell's Angels while the zombie-like crowd of Altamont did nothing more than watch in morbid fascination. As for the sacrificial rite, I shall let my readers draw their own conclusions from the material I have provided. Needless to say, rock 'n' roll would never be the same after Altamont. Thus, we come to the sixth and final verse:
I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the men said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
It is widely believed that the "girl who sang the blues" mentioned in the first three lines of this verse is Janis Joplin, the most famous female blues singer of her time who died of a heroin overdose in 1970. I see no reason to disagree with this interpretation. The part about the 'sacred store' is a reference to how local underground music was increasingly pushed out of record stores as the 1960s wore on to make way for corporate superstars. The lines about the children, lovers, poets, and church bells are in reference to how the positive parts of the hippie movement (i.e. the opposition to the Vietnam war) were lost in the tide of violence that gripped the scene as the decade came to an end.

Janis Joplin (top) and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, another disastrous event for the counterculture
It's widely believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, the three Stars of the Holly-trinity. Some have speculated that this trinity may also be JFK, MLK and RFK, all of whom were assassinated in the 1960s. Interestingly, all three of these men have been subject to conspiracy theories that perceive their deaths as ritualistic murders, as noted above in the case of JFK. There are also highly ritualistic aspects to the death of the Holly-trinity, as I outlined in part one.

the legendary assassination trinity of the 1960s
The bit about catching the last train to the cost is likely an allusion to the geographical shift rock went through as the 1960s wore on. Rock 'n' roll originally began in the East, largely in the South. But by the end of the decade LA was the major rock 'n' roll mecca, which led to its rapid corruption. On the flip side of the coin, Michael A. Hoffman presented an interesting occult interpretation of the American West: "...California in the Mohave desert, which is, for Freemasons, the cosmic graveyard of the West, the final destiny of Anubis, the celestial jackal, otherwise known as Sirius" (Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare, pg. 54) . In this context, it could imply McLean's 'sacrificial rite' moved on from Iowa (where Buddy Holly died) to California.

the statue of Anubis at the bizarre, occult-laden Denver International Airport 
And thus we come to the conclusion of this installment. Over the course of this piece we have briefly considered rock's origins as a local, decentralized phenomenon that gripped the national consciousness upon exposure. As the years rolled along rock was gradually co-opted by major labels that presented the public with superstar acts who perverted rock from its origins and undermined the massive underground rock scene that had developed in the United States. Why rock was such a threat to the establishment was revealed above: Because anyone could do it.

Mainstream music has largely been the domain of the rich and powerful. Classical music, for instance, was largely sponsored by the aristocracy for the aristocracy. The music of common peoples -i.e. folk, blues, etc, has historically been ridiculed as the music of the ignorant and vulgar. When rock music appeared on the scene in the 1950s, combined with rapid advances in radio and recording technology, it provided a medium for anyone to try their hand at a career in recording. Many did and what's more, the public liked what they heard. Unfortunately, this anarchistic state was not something that major record labels could easily make money off of, nor control the message of. Thus, rock music had to be transformed into something more controllable, something that seemed beyond the abilities of normal people. This transformation was bookmarked by two highly ritualistic events --Buddy Holly's death in 1959 and the Altamont Free Concert in 1969, which completed a kind of alchemical transformation upon rock music (or so it was hoped).

This is of course in stark contrast to official accounts of rock 'n' roll history, which largely present 1950s rock music as a passing fad that had all but died out with Buddy Holly in 1959. Then the Beatles arrived on the scene and resurrected the music in 1964 (as well as symbolically resurrecting the Holly-king), thus spurring the so-called 'Golden Age' of rock that would last until the end of the decade. In reality rock was not dying, as much as some may have wished it was --there was in fact a thriving underground rock scene in the United States between the years of Buddy Holly's death and the rise of the Beatles. In part three I shall examine a Blue Oyster Cult song that addresses this era and tackles some of the same themes McLean address in "American Pie." Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How the Music Died Part I

"American Pie" is a song that grabbed the national consciousness immediately upon its release and has yet to let go over 40 years later. To be sure, there are many out there that would love nothing more than for us to forget Don McLean's timeless anthem --This is why my generation is more apt to associate the phrase 'American pie' with sticking one's genitals in a warm pie than with the King and Queen, the Jester, the Players, and numerous other figures the song speaks of. But anyone whose given the lyrics even a precursory consideration will soon realize that something truly profound and tragic is being explained.

It's truly grotesque one of the most subversive songs ever will forever be tainted by this piece of shit
Over the course of this post and future installments I will attempt to explain the song's rich symbolism and connect it with a similarly themed song by Blue Oyster Cult released in 1974. I suspect that this is the first time "American Pie" has ever been linked with BoC and that there are no doubt a few 'serious' music buffs out there scratching their heads. After all, BoC is about the epitome of bloated 70s hard rock to many. But McLean and BoC both recorded epic songs that subtly denounced the mythology of the 1960s in part by showing that the social revolutions often associated with this era was well underway long before the Beatles touched down in 1964.

McLean (top) and BoC (bottom) in all their 70s hideousness
Anyway, "American Pie." The first key to understanding this song is recognizing the two pivotal events that bookend it's narrative. The first event is extremely well known --the death of Buddy Holly, which occurred in 1959. The phrase 'the day the music died' that is now widely applied to Holly's death originated in "American Pie," at the end of the first verse ("But something touched me deep inside/The day the music died"). The second pivotal event alluded to throughout the song and directly referenced in the sixth verse is the notorious Altamont Free Concert, which unfolded on December 6, 1969. The period of ten years mentioned in the song ("Now, for ten years we've been on our own/And moss grows fat on a rolling stone") is in reference to the time that passed between these two events and the profound transformation that occurred therein.

the Altamont Free Concert
Now, before I really delve into the lyrics I must address Buddy Holly and his death, which will take up the rest of this post --Yes, it really is that significant. To put it bluntly, Holly was a true revolutionary, and not in the faux political sense that many 60s rockers  would take up. Holly would not just have a profound influence on rock 'n' roll itself, but his brief career would go a long toward breaking down social barriers and challenging social norms. Holly was playing and performing with black musicians and even married a Puerto Rican woman in era when this type of thing wasn't exactly common. Even more striking, his fans were accepting of these practices.
 "Holly was one of the first white artists to take the black man's music and adapt it to a more diverse audience. When he and his band the Crickets were signed to their first label, Brunswick, the record executives had first thought that the band was a lack group. Little did they know that an all-white southern band from Texas would take the legendary all-black Apollo Theater in New York by storm. Did this diffusion of musical styles help lead the country to denounce the Jim Crow laws and lay the first foundation for the establishment of the Civil Rights movement? Maybe; this is a point that could be well argued. When Holly appeared on stage and on national television wearing his trademark black horned-rimmed glasses, he gave other musicians, including a very nearsighted John Lennon, the courage to appear naturally on stage wearing glasses and not be hung up promoting a cool stereotypical image.  
"If the cultural acceptance of Buddy Holly was important, even more so was his music. The secret to his songs was primarily the clever wordplay and an infectious beat. Holly's playing did more to promote the Fender Stratocaster guitar than any other artist (notwithstanding Jimi Hendrix, of course!). In a time filled with the terrible uncertainty of the Cold War, Buddy Holly and his music provided a much-needed reprieve."
(Take a Walk on the Dark Side, R. Gary Patterson, pgs. XV-XVI)
Holly broke barriers down, but he did it in a fashion that kept the kids dancing. Sadly, his career was cut short on February 3, 1959 by a fatal plane crash that would also claim the lives of two other rising rock 'n' rollers: J.P. 'the Big Bopper' Richardson and Ritchie Valens, one of the first Mexican-American celebrities who recorded the legendary "La Bamba." These three men were in the midst of a grueling winter tour that was spreading the rock 'n' roll evangelical to the Midwest when the crash brought things to a screeching halt. The death of these three figures has been the subject of much mystery and speculation for decades and for good reason: there are numerous bizarre instances of synchronicity and twilight language surrounding the plane crash. Even when one strips away the urban legends that build up around these types of events there's still much to marvel at. So, let us first ponder some of the well known facts and urban legends surrounding Holly's death.

Ritchie Valens (top) and the Big Bopper (bottom)
Consider Ritchie Valens' curious encounters with planes. On January 31, 1957, there was a plane crash in the school yard of Pacoima Junior High School, which Valens was attending at the time. That particular day he happened to have missed school due to his grandfather's funeral. The event would haunt him, however, and he would have a fear of planes for the rest of his (brief) life that he was only beginning to overcome at the time of his death. The plane crash that killed Valens would occur almost exactly two years after the crash at Pacoima. He was not even supposed to be on the plane originally. He famously acquired the seat from Buddy Holly's backup guitarist, Tommy Allsup, via a coin flip which Valens 'won' by calling 'heads.'

the school yard of Pacoima Junior High School after a plane crash that occurred almost exactly two years to the day of the one that killed former alumni, Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens was not the only one that wasn't supposed to be on the plane that night. Buddy Holly's bass player, future country star Waylon Jennings, was originally scheduled to fly on the plane with Holly. Jennings gave up his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper, who was coming down with a bad cold so that he could get to the next destination early and visit a doctor. Upon learning that Jennings had given up his seat, Holly jokingly told Jennings that he hoped the tour bus would freeze up. Jennings returned the quip by saying to Holly "Yeah, and I hope your old plane crashes." Those words haunted Jennings for the rest of his life.

country star Waylon Jennings, who was originally supposed to be on the plane
The Big Bopper supposedly had a premonition of his death. In 1957 the Big Bopper pulled a 122 hour sleepless Disk-A-Thon after which he was carried away to the hospital for sever exhaustion. During the Disk-A-Thon the Bopper began to hallucinate. In one hallucination he apparently foresaw his own death and remarked "the other side wasn't that bad."

The Big Bopper was apparently not the only one that had some inclination of what was coming. It has long been alleged that Buddy Holly had premonitions of his own death. There are two main accounts along these lines. One revolved around a simultaneous dreams that he and his wife, Maria Elena Holly, had shortly before Buddy departed for his final tour that deeply disturbed both. Maria dreamed that she was in an open field resembling a farm and witnessed a flaming object falling from the sky. Buddy dreamed that he was in a plane with his Maria and his brother. His brother convinced Buddy to leave Maria on top of a building while they flew away. The dream left Buddy with a profound sense of guilt. The Winter Dance Party tour, Buddy's last, was the first and only tour Maria (who had just found out she was pregnant) did not go along with him on.

Buddy Holly and wife Maria Elena Holly
Stranger still is the second account of Holly having forewarning of his death. The famed British producer and occultist Joe Meek allegedly attempted to warn Holly of his death on February third almost a full year before the plane crash. Meek and some friends had apparently been playing around with a deck of Tarot cards when they received a messaging stating "February the third Buddy Holly dies." When Holly toured the UK in 1958 Meek personally delivered Holly a letter recounting this prediction. Reportedly Holly thanked him and promised to always be careful on the third of February from then on, a promise he obviously didn't keep.

Holly's death would effect Meek for the rest of his life. From time to time he would even claim that Holly was communicating with him in his dreams from beyond the grave. Eventually Meek would murder his landlady with a single barreled shotgun before turning the rifle on himself. His murder-suicide occurred on February 3, 1967, the eight year anniversary of Holly's death.

Joe Meek, the famed British producer and occultist who allegedly foresaw Holly's death and continued communicating with him from beyond the dead
At this point I should note that some of the above information should be taken with a major grain of salt. My sole source for many of the antidotes surrounding Holly's death is R. Gary Patterson's Take a Walk on the Dark Side which, despite being an interesting read, doesn't display especially credible sources. Many of these events such as the Pacoima plane crash and Waylon Jenning's final words to Buddy Holly did in fact happen, but I have found no evidence outside of Mr. Patterson's book (and blogs quoting from it) to confirm other events such as Joe Meek's warning to Buddy Holly about February third (though Meek most certainly did murder his landlady before killing himself on the anniversary of Holly's death).

Now that most of the major urban legends are out of the way (aside from the Buddy Holly 'death curse,' which you can find more about here), let's get into the twilight language of Holly's death. We'll start with the name game. Holly's last name is spelled just like the tree of the same name. Holly trees are loaded with symbolism. Holly is also closely associated with the mythological figure of the Green Knight, who is symbolic of death and rebirth.
"The Green Knight is an immortal giant whose club is a holly-bush. He and Sir Gawain... make a compact to behead one another at alternative New Years --meaning midsummer and midwinter --but, in effect, the Holy Knight spares the Oak Knight... 
" Welsh myth, the Oak Knight and Holly Knight fought every first of May until Doomsday. Since in mediaeval practice St. John the Baptist, who lost his head on St. John's Day, took over the oak-king's titles and customs, it was natural to let Jesus, as John's merciful successor, take over the holly-king's."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 179-180)

The holly-king always met a bloody end as well.
"...the holly-king, or green knight, who appears in the old English 'Christmas Play,' a survival of the Saturnalia, as the Fool who is beheaded but rises up again unhurt..."
(ibid, pg. 196)
Valens is also an interesting name. Ritchie Valens real name was Richard Steven Valenzuela. He adopted Ritchie Valens to 'broaden' his appeal (i.e., get white people to buy his music). Prior to the 1950s, the name Valens was primarily associated with the Romans, from where it originated, and meant 'worthy.' By far the most famous Valens up to that point was the Emperor Valens, who lost his life at the legendary Battle of Adrianople, a defeat that utterly devastated ancient Rome and opened the floodgates for Gothic hordes to enter the empire.

the Emperor Valens
While it is usually reported that Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper set off from Clear Lake, Iowa on the flight that cost them their lives, it was actually the nearby Mason City where the plane took off. The town was originally called Masonic Groves, which was apparently inspired by Freemasonry. Shortly thereafter the name was changed to Shibboleth, which is a kind of pass word. After one of the founder's children, who was named Mason, died, it took on the moniker of Masonville. Finally it became Mason City in the late 1850s when it was found that another Masonville existed in the Iowa.

Various numbers associated with Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper are also curious. Consider the ages of the three at the time of their deaths: Valens was 17, Holly 22 and the Big Bopper the old man at 28. The number 17 is highly significant in the occult, especially to the Sirius tradition, which I've noted before here. Strangely, the plane also took off from Runway 17.

As noted above, Holly was 22 at the time of his death. He was also carrying a .22 pistol on his person when the plane crashed. 22 is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet and branches on the Kabbalahistic Tree of Life. There are 22 trumps in the tarot. It is also the number of Abra-Melin. JFK was assassinated on the twenty-second of November, 1963. What's more, it can be achieved by multiplying two by eleven. Eleven, the number of magic, and other numbers associated with it (22, 33, 66, etc), are highly important in the occult.
"The secret Star of Magick is also elevenfold; it is the Unicursal Hexagram of the Beast plus the five-petalled Rose typical of Babalon, for the flower (flow-er) is the symbol of her magical function."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 23)

Interestingly, there are also eleven years separating the youngest member of the group (Valens, at 17) from the oldest member of the group, the Big Bopper, who was 28. 28 is the mystic number of Netzach, the seventh of the ten Sephirot of the Kabbalah. Pioneering twilight language researcher James Shelby Downard applied some interesting attributes to the number 28 as well. Of it, he writes "The number 28 is one of the correspondences of Solomon in kabbalistic numerology; the Solomonic name assigned to 28 is 'Beale'" (Secret and Suppressed, "Sorcery, Sex, Assassinations and the Science of Symbolism," pg. 75).

Ever since the crash, Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper have formed a kind of rock 'n' roll trinity. The trinity association of Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper was initially introduced in the first song tribute to them, Tommy Dee's "Three Stars," which was written and recorded on the same day of the crash. Don McLean certainly seems to play into the notion of Holly and Co as a trinity in "American Pie," as we'll discuss in the next installment. Trinities have a long occult history that goes well beyond the Holy Trinity of Christianity. One of the earliest trinities was associated with the witch goddess Hecate.
"Hecate is triple-countenanced, and being three-fold in aspect she is known as Diana on earth, Luna in heaven, and Hecate in hell. These three women comprise one of the triads of western mythology. Such triads were a central part of ancient religions, and the 'mystical triad' idea became part of Masonic symbolism. There is in fact a triad of three governing officers to be found in almost every degree, and in the higher degrees there exists a symbolical triad that presides under various names, just as Hecate presides in different places under various names."
(Secret and Suppressed, "Sex, Sorcery, Assassination and the Science of Symbolism, James Shelby Downard, pg. 63)
Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper died on the third day of February, the second month of the year. With these two numbers --2 and 3 --we also have an occurrence of the 23 enigma. The number 23 is also linked with 17 at times, as I've written of before here. The 23 enigma was first introduced to the public by the great Robert Anton Wilson. Of it, he writes:
"I first heard of the 23 enigma from William S Burroughs, author ofNaked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23... 
"In conception, Mom and Dad each contribute 23 chromosomes to the fœtus. DNA, the carrier of the genetic information, has bonding irregularities every 23rd Angstrom. Aleister Crowley, in his Cabalistic Dictionary, defines 23 as the number of 'life' or 'a thread', hauntingly suggestive of the DNA life-script. On the other hand, 23 has many links with termination: in telegraphers’ code, 23 means 'bust' or 'break the line', and Hexagram 23 in I Ching means 'breaking apart'. Sidney Carton is the 23rd man guillotined in the old stage productions of A Tale of Two Cities. (A few lexicographers believe this is the origin of the mysterious slang expression '23 Skiddoo!'.)
"Some people are clusters of bloody synchronicities in 23. Burroughs discovered that the bootlegger 'Dutch Schultz' (real name: Arthur Flegenheimer) had Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll assassinated on 23rd Street in New York when Coll was 23 years old. Schultz himself was assassinated on 23 October. Looking further into the Dutch Schultz case, I found that Charlie Workman, the man convicted of shooting Schultz, served 23 years of a life sentence and was then paroled."
Robert Anton Wilson with the number 23
Finally, the date of Holly and Co's deaths, 2/3, is the day after a major holiday of European paganism. Much of the Christian world celebrates February 2 as Candlemas (or Groundhog Day in the US) but originally it was the date of the Celtic fire festival of Imbolc.
"The important Celtic feast of Candlemas ... (February 2nd). It was held to mark the quickening of the year, and was the first of the four 'cross-quarter days' on which British witches celebrated their Sabbaths, the other being May Eve, Lammas (August 2nd) and All Hallow E'en, when the year died. These days correspond with the four great Irish fire-feasts mentioned by Cormac the tenth-century Archbishop of Cashel. In Ireland and the Highlands February 2nd is, very properly, the day of St. Bright, formerly the White Goddess, the quickening Triple Muse."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 168)
modern Imbolc celebration
Celtic fire festivals were typically marked by a wide variety of human sacrifice.
"Condemned criminals were reserved by the Celts in order to be sacrificed to the gods at a great festival which took place once in every five years. The more there were of such victims, the greater was believed to be the fertility of the land. If there were not enough criminals to furnish victims, captives taken in war were immolated to supply the deficiency. When the time came the victims were sacrificed by the Druids or priests. Some they shot down with arrows, some the impaled, and some they burned alive in the following manner. Colossal images of wicker-work or of wood and grass were constructed; these were filled with live men, cattle, and animals of other kinds; fire was then applied to the images, and they were burned with their living contents.
"Such were the great festivals held once every five years. But besides these quinquennial festivals, celebrated on so grand a scale, and with, apparently, so large an expenditure of human life, it seemed reasonable to suppose that festivals of the same sort, only on a lesser scale, were held annually, and that from these annual festivals are lineally descended some at least of the fire-festivals which, with their traces of human sacrifice, are still celebrated year by year in many parts of Europe. The gigantic images constructed of osiers or covered with grass in which the Druids enclosed their victims remind us of the leafy framework in which the human representative of the tree-spirit is still so often encased."
(The Golden Bough, James Frazer, pg. 745-746)

Frazer only mentions two of the Celtic fire-festivals, Beltane and Samhain. These were definitely the two main fire-festivals, but Imbolc and Lammas were also celebrated on a large scale. While the bulk of the sacrifices would have been performed at Beltane and Samhain, its likely that a few were also conducted on Imbolc and Lammas. Interestingly, Frazer asserts that many of the 'criminals' sacrificed at these festivals were in fact religious heretics. This is merely Frazer's opinion, as he makes clear, but he makes a compelling case for this belief none the less.

Buddy Holly was not killed by fire, nor was anyone else on the plane that night --all died from blunt trauma from the crash. In fact, I've found no indication that there was any kind of fire from the crash, which is rather curious. What's more, Holly and Co did not died on Imbolc, but just a little over an hour after it had ended. On the flip side of the coin, Imbolc had not come to an end across the whole United States yet (Holly would have died right around midnight Mountain Time, for instance). And while fire was the preferred form of sacrifice during Celtic fire-festivals, it was not the only one used.

an image of Buddy Holly's crash site
Now, let us step back and look at Holly's death through the prism of twilight language. We have the Holly-king and two other stars forming a kind of trinity; a holly-trinity. Their ages are 17, 22 and 28 --All highly mystical numbers. Eleven years of age separates the youngest member of the holly-trinity (Valens) from the oldest (the Bopper). The Holly-king trinity then departs from an airport in Mason City (an area originally named after Freemasonry) just as the Celtic fire festival of Imbolc is coming to an end. Within ten minutes or so of takeoff all three men are dead. They are not burned, but are in the type of accident with a high probability of fire. Another victim, Holly's unborn son with Maria Elena Holly, added to this tragedy the following day when she had a miscarriage.

Did the death of the Holly-king then represent some kind of sacrificial rite? Don McLean certainly would not shy away from using such a phrase (though likely in reference to Altamont) in "American Pie," as we shall see in the next installment. Stay tuned.