The day the music died

Published 8:00 pm Friday, September 7, 2018

Don McClean’s 1970s ode, “American Pie,” offered a social hymn to the music and cultural revolution that took place in the 1960s. Of all the iconic lyrics found in the song, the one that speaks to me today is the one that laments the deaths of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens when their small plane crashed in an Iowa field in 1959. The phrase “the day the music died” carries such a transformative and final declaration of ending, as if there was no coming back from such a death. McClean’s lyric was not unique; each generation since the sixties has lost its share of revered musicians before their time. But as we all know, the music didn’t die; it continued then and today, to reflect who we are — as a diverse and at times divisive, but also a caring and loving, society. What McClean didn’t comment on was the importance of music to sustain life as well as to explore what it means to be human.

My father was a journalist and then an associate publisher of the Moline (Illinois) Daily Dispatch. He wrote tightly knit stories about the events and lives of people in a town of 70,000. He and his fellow journalists, when the daily paper was the only news medium besides the radio, entertained, informed and wove a narrative of community for all to share. One of my brothers followed in his footsteps and worked as a journalist for the Burlington, Iowa, paper.

Now, the daily newspaper struggles to stay alive, competing with an expanse of other outlets. There have been many obituaries recently written on the rapid demise of the paper that shows up on your front steps (I delivered the Chicago Tribune in Springfield, Illinois, growing up and chucking the Sunday Trib was a superhuman effort even for a 12-year-old catcher’s arm). If the music hasn’t died completely yet, the McCleans of the world think it is coming.

For many communities, no matter the size, from the Miami Herald, the still-breathing Moline Daily Dispatch, to our Washington Daily News, the newspaper still is that amplification of events, activities and people that are important for the community to know about and understand. The immediacy of news happening in neighborhoods around us or across town is best conveyed the next day, not the next week or even two days later. And it is reported on by journalists trained in capturing what readers should or want to know about the story.

I was ecstatic when my wife and I bought a home here and learned that “small town” Washington had a daily newspaper. What a plus, we thought, for those who live here and those thinking of moving here. It is a treat to peruse the paper each morning before my day gets underway, as I have done for years in other towns where I’ve lived. Even if I don’t get a chance to read the paper while drinking my coffee, it beckons later, on the kitchen table or online. My heart clutched when I saw the headline last week about the paper cutting back on days published, but I was relieved to see that only one day will be cut out. It still is a daily newspaper, and I look forward to many more mornings learning about the community we live in, and the kinds of things we need to know to make it better for everyone.

Clearly, the music hasn’t died.