Good Bye Tom Petty
Photo: Richard E. Aaron
You’d think that writing this piece on Tom Petty would be easy. An homage to a man who created so many years of fantastic music. An impossible dreamer who refused to subscribe himself to the conventional narratives of giving up on what he wanted to do. A voice conveyed from stereo speakers around the world. And yet… Words fail. Perhaps it is the grimness of writing this piece while he toes the silver-white line that borders the world of the living and that of the dead. Or maybe it is the early reckoning of a musical landscape that will now be lacking one of it’s great players…
Tom Petty began as so many of us do, a bored kid looking for a way to make some noise. Dropping out of his Gainesville high school at the tender age 17, Petty had one goal, and one goal alone – to fucking rock. In the 49 years that followed his fateful decision to leave school and live his impossible dream, Petty’s recorded 13 studio albums, many live albums, was a member of the legendary supergroup The Traveling Wilbury’s, and sold over 80 million records worldwide. Not too shabby for a cornsilk-blonde kid from Florida.
But those are just the nuts-and-bolts of his successful career. What I believe to be one of the true beauties of Petty’s music is how it spoke to so many. He sang of the anarchy of the self, fields of wildflowers, star-spangled Southern skies, a drive to be something greater, and how even the losers, sometimes, manage to get lucky. He wrote songs you could locate yourself in. You could see yourself grow within them over time. There is a fine art to producing work like that which can never be over stated. And what made it even better was he played it so god damn well. To watch him preform, was a thing of beauty: a guy, his guitar, having the time of his fucking life – every time. I was lucky enough to see him this August at the Greek Theater and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
I’ve been a fan of Petty’s music since I was about 4 years old. His songs are among one of my first memories of listening to music, understanding it as a vehicle for something much more than that of itsy bitsy spiders. Tom Petty’s voice found me in 1986, strapped into the car seat in my mom’s beat up VW Bug, and it has never left me. His music, his lyrics, and his sublime musicianship have sound tracked the best, worst, and whateverest moments of my life. His music has taught me to believe in myself, that there’s always time to smoke another joint, and to never, ever back down.
Tom Petty, thank you. Thank you for providing a bitchin’ soundtrack for so many of our lives. I hope that where ever you are, you’re surrounded by wildflowers, and I hope that you feel free.