My song today is ‘Chantilly Lace’. This song was written released the song in August 1958. The song reached Number 6 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart and spent 22 weeks on the national Top 40. It was the third most played song of 1958. On the ‘Cash Box’ chart, ‘Chantilly Lace’ reached Number 4. I sing this song today in commemoration of the death of ‘The Big Bopper’ 61 years ago today (see next paragraph).
On February 3, 1959, a tragedy occurred near Clear Lake, Iowa, USA when the rock and roll musicians, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (known to fans as ‘The Big Bopper’) were killed in a plane crash, together with pilot Roger Peterson The event later became known as "The Day the Music Died’, after singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to it as such in his 1971 song ‘American Pie’. During a late take off in poor weather conditions on a chartered plane, the pilot lost control of the light aircraft, and crashed into a cornfield, killing all four onboard. The event has since been mentioned in several songs and films. Various monuments have been erected at the crash site and in Clear Lake, where an annual memorial concert is also held at the ‘Surf Ballroom’, the venue that hosted the artists' last performances.
At the time of this flight accident of the three singers, I was a sixteen-year-old, who was literally in the process of getting my dancing legs back. Or should I say bopping legs? There would not be any more graceful gliding around a dance floor doing the Viennese waltz for me, following a bad traffic accident I had at the age of 11 years.
When I was 11 years old, a wagon ran over me and stopped on top of me, by which time my body was wrapped around the main-drive propeller shaft of the vehicle. It took a long while to extricate me from beneath the wagon’s undercarriage, and I was taken to hospital with several life-threatening injuries which included a damaged spine, punctured and collapsed lungs, crushed chest with all but two ribs broken, both legs broken in many places and both arms and collar bone were broken. I would remain on the critical list for the first month of my nine months hospital stay, and then be unable to walk for another 27 months after my hospital discharge.
Over a two-year period, I would have my leg broken and reset fifty times. My left leg had been broken twice on the kneecap when I was run over, and this leg required four dozen operations on it. My left leg finished up being 3 inches shorter than my right leg by the age of 14 years. Over the following seven years, I engaged in a surfeit of sporting exercises to improve my overall body balance and to assume some semblance of normal walking gait, which is no mean feat with a three-inch leg difference between right and left prop!
I had always loved singing and dancing ever since childhood and had won many talent contests as a singer. I had even acquired a medal for old-time dancing when I was ten years old. I would attend a dance hall every week in a large wooden hut called the ‘Keir Hardie’ in Liversedge. Having mastered old-time dancing, I was about to progress to learning ballroom modern dancing when the wagon knocked me down and knocked me out of all future dancing competitions.
My return to the dance floor was facilitated by the coming of the rock and roll era and the freestyle rock and roll dancing which the young called ‘bopping’. This freestyle involved all manner of erratic body and leg movements which enabled me to compete once more on equal terms. Any leg shortness mattered less than if one could synchronise the remainder of one’s body with the beat and move one’s hips with suggestive rhythm. By the time I was 18 years old, I had found ways to disguise my leg unequalness on the dance floor and I could bop with the best of them.
There are several dances one cannot sit out, and the one that was always guaranteed to get me (and everyone else in the dance hall) up on the floor was ‘Chantilly Lace’ by the Big Bopper. As so often happens when an artist dies, it became more popular on the nation’s dance floors. While they say that death is a great leveller, with some artists, it merely witnesses a massive surge of interest in them and their works. Whenever anyone wanted to pay a compliment to some good male dancer from the group of mates I went around with, they would call them ‘The Big Bopper’. This compliment was akin to saying, “On the dance floor, he’s the man!”
Love and peace