The quicker us pick Icarus to be a stinker of a pilot, but anyone that near the sun ain't no shrinking violet.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, "What's Your Name"
Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and four other people. The tragedy occurred just three days after the release of Street Survivors, and four days into the band's most successful tour at that time.
Plane crashes are one of the most mythic of rock and roll deaths. Something about them hallows the victims. Would Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens be as iconic today if they hadn't been cut down so young in so dramatic a fashion? Certainly the landscape of music would've been forever changed without them inspiring Don McLean's legendary lament in "American Pie."
Sure, the list of luminaries lost in air transit is full of talent sorely missed - Patsy Cline, John Denver, Randy Rhoads, Ricky Nelson - but why does the plane crash have such a hold on the imagination?
Lynyrd Skynyrd, "You Got That Right"
Part of it is the inherent innocence of the victim. It's not excess or hubris that takes out the star, but rather the cruel hand of fate itself. We can be assured that in almost every case, the victims didn't bring this upon themselves.
Rocks Off has another theory, though, one with its origins in the ancient story of Icarus. For those of you who didn't have to read the Edith Hamilton book in school, Icarus was the son of the famous architect and inventor Daedalus, who invented pretty much anything awesome built by the hand of man in Greek mythology.
By contrast, his son was a famous archer who helped Crete fight off the eggplant wizards while his dad was off building the labyrinth for King Minos. After the labyrinth was built, Minos decided Daedalus knew too much and imprisoned him and Icarus in a tower. Daedalus decided towers suck, and designed two pairs of wings for himself and Icarus out of feathers and wax.
Before the two made like Hawkman and Hawkboy, Daedalus gave Icarus very specific instructions: Don't fly too close to the sun or the heat will melt the wax and you will fall. Well, it all went swimmingly for a bit. The two flew away from the island of Crete and headed out over sea.
Icarus did what he was told at first, but then started showing off by doing loops and things like that. Cut to the chase, he got too near the sun, the wax melted, and he hit the water like Lindsay Lohan's career has hit bottom.
Icarus resonates with people for two reasons. The first is our desire to rise, to excel and to piss in the face of the gods. Unaided flight is one of humanity's oldest dreams, and to watch someone actually do it is like watching someone become divine. The second reason is we all expect to be smited for trying. Indeed, we welcome it, and look on those who fall with a smug satisfaction for trying to wear the Daddy pants.
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Drive-By Truckers, "Shut Up and Get on the Plane"
Musicians are the modern-day equivalent of legendary heroes, especially dead ones who don't have press contacts to correct bullshit. The fame and fortune that accompany producing an album like Street Survivors is very much like flying in that it is something us lesser mortals cannot do. So we cheer as the plane carrying the band launches into the sky on their journey around the world shocking and amazing audiences with talents we don't have.
And we are never surprised when fate clips the wings of those who fly too high. Saddened, yes, but never surprised.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.