Maddie’s Matters

By Maddie LaPlante-Dube, Columnist

On Feb. 3, 1959, newspapers were plastered with hastily-written headlines that would come to shock the rock ‘n’ roll world. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, along with their young pilot, had all been found dead in an Iowa cornfield following a plane crash.

The three musicians had been ejected and were discovered in the field surrounding the crash site, their pilot found dead in the mangled body of the plane.

The day would later come to be known as “The Day the Music Died,” courtesy of Don McLean’s hit “American Pie.” It was a colossal tragedy that rocketed Holly and Valens, especially, into posthumous fame that would later help shape rock music forever.

In the same month 57 years later, a tragedy of equal proportions took the lives of the four members of the indie-rock band, Viola Beach, and their manager, Craig Tarry.

On Feb. 13, 2016 the British group had been traveling from their first international gig in Stockholm when, under questionable circumstances, their car crashed through a protective barrier blocking a drawbridge, consequently launching them into the river below the motorway.

Three of the five were fished out of the river. Two were dragged out with the car. It’s a senseless tragedy that’s ironically rocketed Viola Beach to the Top 10 on the iTunes charts and prompted hundreds of thousands of tributes, comments and condolences to the family, with headlines reading, “Who were Viola Beach?”

I am not so sure why the news of this event hit me so hard, especially during a moment in global history during which there are so many more important issues to write on.

Perhaps their deaths echoes a more modern “day the music died.” Perhaps it was because they were killed as a unit — there is no legacy that will follow them. The band only had three singles on Spotify, yet their sound was representative of the indie genre that has come to define much of our generation’s fractured tastes.

Perhaps it’s because they were just kids. Like Ritchie Valens, vocalist Kris Leonard and River Reeves were teenagers when they died. Drummer Jack Dakin was aged 24 and bassist Tomas Lowe joins Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and an eerie amount of other musicians in the “27 Club,” the unofficial name for the phenomenon that sees many famous musicians never make it past 27 years old.

Hauntingly, the last post on their Facebook band page was put up the day before the anniversary of Holly’s, Valens’s and Richardson’s deaths, announcing a gig they’d been invited to play by BBC Introducing in March, their first in North America.

Their band page is devastating; where other indie bands who are trying to make it big have artsy pictures and pretentious music videos to fit in with The 1975 and The Neighbourhood aesthetic, the boys of Viola Beach didn’t take themselves too seriously. Some of their recent, most charming creations include their low-budget version of Titanic, a film they made while traveling on a boat, and fake cop videos.

Their music was infectiously alive and well-mixed. BBC knew they were going somewhere.

“Will they follow in the footsteps of BBC Introducing 2015 night alums Blossoms to bring acclaim to another town outside of Manchester?” Mary Chang of music website, There Goes the Fear, wrote just four days before the band members were killed. “Definitely.”

Sometimes, and especially during hard times, music is the only escape. The loss of Viola Beach might not shock the world the way the death of Buddy Holly did this time 57 years ago, but it’s a tragedy all the same.

They were going somewhere. They were going to help their listeners escape. It’s not a cliché — they really were going to make it big.

To those in the indie music industry, Viola Beach will be sorely missed. May this tiny article act as a tribute to their potential.

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