Monday, February 3, 2014

02/03: La Bamba

If you are a rock and roll legend and popular music historian, then you already know today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in music. 55 years ago today, as Don McLean put it, it was 'the day the music died'. Rock stars who were popular at the time: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson were on board of a small plane that crashed in Northern Iowa. They were traveling as part of a 'Winter Dance Party' tour. One of my favorite rock legends is how and why they boarded a plane, and how it was determined who got to go. There are different sides looking at it, shown in film and through survivors' personal accounts. But what is known is: Dion di Mucci, who then was a rising star, did not want to charter the plane because it was too expensive. This was personally told by him on his Facebook page two weeks ago. It is true that Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to one of the guys and it is also true that he said, 'I hope your plane crashes'. I'm sure he didn't mean anything serious, but nonetheless it reportedly haunted him the rest of his life. There was also speculation that Big Bopper was shot as the plane was descending down, and his son (now deceased) actually had his father's body recovered to see if it was true. (It wasn't)

La Bamba is a story about Valens' life. Lou Diamond Philips portrays the young blooming star, as he does a great performance. Not very much was known about Valens up until this movie came out. A lot of people knew he was only 17 when he died and he had at least 3 hit songs. Very little was known about his personal and family life. Valens, whose real surname was Valenzuela, knew he had enough talent to get him signed to a label. We see the inspiration of his two biggest hits, 'Donna' (who was his girlfriend) and 'La Bamba'. Even though the song 'La Bamba' wasn't a Top 20 hit it arguably became his signature song. Because of the film's success, the song became a #1 cover smash on the Hot 100 for the Hispanic rock band Los Lobos.

Five and a half decades later, the men's music still lives on (despite the shrinking number of oldies stations nationwide) through many projects as well as bands still citing them as an influence. In 2001, Ritchie Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (by Ricky Martin). Some have criticized it, perhaps because of the brevity of his career. But nonetheless he did help open a door for Hispanic-Americans into the entertainment business. It's too bad Valens never lived to see it. He did encounter prejudice through his girlfriend Donna's father. Probably the saddest part is not just the ending (besides the plane crash), but its the sad truth that Valens didn't live a full life and he didn't have enough time to exhibit his talent. It's probably safe to say he died in the middle of doing something he was growing to love.

If you're really into music and history like I am, then this movie is for you. You will see a side that a lot of us never got to see about the late Mr. Valens. It's not only life teaching, but entertaining as well.

My rating: 8 out of 10

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