I am very nearly without words today. It takes great effort to even think in words. Melodies and harmonies are all that are running through my head. I cried when we lost George Harrison. Despaired when Prince died too young. But those are just the wounds that spring to mind because they are contextual. Revived because of proximity.
Tom Petty was more than a musician to me. Tom Petty described my soul to me, and he didn’t just do it once. He did it over and over again through the course of my life, the course of his career. I identified with his music in ways I simply cannot describe.
He died doing what he wanted to do, ending a tour in support of his latest album. He went quickly and without suffering. Most of us want to be that lucky when it comes our time to go.
I could post tracks all day long, and I did post tracks all day long on the day I learned of his death. I read about it not too long after getting up that day, but his death wasn’t officially confirmed until later.
Petty’s final show was last week, performing three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl to conclude their 40th anniversary tour, CBS News reports.
He told Rolling Stone that he thought this would be the group’s last tour together.
“It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”Tom Petty obituary in The Independent
It was the day after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. One more mass shooting in a near-infinite string of tragedies that, quite frankly, I refuse to pay attention to anymore. If anyone cared we’d actually talk about gun control in a way that might be productive. But we can’t and we don’t and so, like September 11th being my dad’s birthday, I didn’t and won’t post about another mass shooting that won’t change anything. Jim has it right. We are Bang, Bang Crazy.
So instead I will mourn the death of a man whose work I cherished above most others of his caliber. He lived a full life and died early. Not as early as many who had the kind of talent he had, but he also didn’t live as long as the rare few do. I’ll miss him. We all will miss him and the music he might have gone on to make.
A Facebook friend and fellow fan challenged other fans to quick, give me your favorite Tom Petty lyrics. Rather than give her my favorite (which is Breakdown above) I posted the lyrics that I went to the point of actually signing up to edit that day, Learning To Fly. I signed up so as to get the correct stanza structure for the song set down properly on Lyrically. Someone had just pasted content from another website (probably) and/or didn’t understand how poetry is written and why. But that is how much I thought this was the song to remember him by on that day.
Well I started out
Down a dirty road
And the sun went down
As I crossed the hill
And the town lit up
The world got still
I’m learning to fly,
But I ain’t got wings
Is the hardest thing
Well the good ol’ days
May not return
And the rocks might melt
And the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly
But I ain’t got wings
Is the hardest thing
Well some say life
Will beat you down
and break your heart
Steal your crown
So I’ve started out
For God knows where
I guess I’ll know
When I get there
I’m learning to fly
Around the clouds
But what goes up
Must come down
It has now been about two weeks since the day he died, but I’m back dating this article to the day, the day, because I really don’t care if anyone reads this or not. I finished watching the documentary Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream a few days ago. Watching it brought back some memories that I really wanted to put down in this post.
His album, Hard Promises came out the year I graduated. I remember going to the Hastings record store next to the Safeway I was courtesy clerking at in 1980 and buying that cassette (vinyl was and is the purview of music collectors with money. Something I’ve never had any of) and subsequently Damn the Torpedoes. I remember not being willing to buy the first album because of the cheesy cover art, which says a lot about the importance of graphic design. The title of You’re Gonna Get it I deemed too juvenile, like Fair Warning, Van Halen’s fourth album.
If you’re poor fighting is the norm. You fight to get everything, all the time. When your stepfather is abusive, conflict is a foregone conclusion. Using the phrases of the abuser you’re gonna get it is descend to their level. I always tried to be more than that, more than the abuser was in their petty little mind. So violence was to be avoided, not encouraged. If violence is inevitable you make sure you emerge the victor, you don’t worry about methods beyond their capacity to produce desired outcomes. Hit them from behind, above, with a blunt object and keep swinging until the target stops moving. Easier to do than thinking.
Tom Petty knew how to fight and proved it repeatedly. Proved it by filing for bankruptcy to get control of his music back, winning the first case against a record company, leading the way for others who had signed usurious record contracts to also get control of their music back. His lawsuit altered the face of the music business, leading the way towards the music industry of today which exists to serve artists and not the other way around.
After completing his Southern Accents tour, he was one of the best-selling artists in music history. So what does he do next? He and the Heartbreakers agree to go on the road, touring with Bob Dylan as his backing band. Who else has progressed from headlining his own shows to being the backing band for another artist? Has anyone else ever done that? After a few more albums and more success, they joined Johnny Cash’s studio back up band.
“What they call country today is like bad rock groups with a fiddle”Tom Petty
Roy Orbison. George Harrison. Now Tom Petty. We’re running out of Wilburys.