Don’t be surprised in the coming months, or even years, if you run into people who did not realize Tom Petty died.
Unfortunately he did.
And, unfortunately he died the day after the biggest mass shooting in United States’ history because the news kind of got swept under the rug. Mourning his passing felt a bit trivial. Plus there was that whole, did he or didn’t he die thing. That was weird wasn’t it? A bit of false hope that maybe he could pull through.
In the end the premature announcement of his death proved simply that. Premature. Perhaps immature too, as his daughter so eloquently, or maybe not so eloquently, commented on a certain outfit trying to break the news first. Good for her. Forever a rag.
I always liked Mr. Petty and his music. I wasn’t a HUGE fan but I never turned his music off when it came on the radio. Please don’t misunderstand. Not a huge fan doesn’t mean his music was just OK for me. It’s just that other bands and musicians caught my ear at an early age which developed the kind of devotion that I believe only a certain few understand. When they pass, I’ll feel what the truly devoted to Mr. Petty felt.
My earliest authentic memory of Mr. Petty was during my first year at a college that turned into an awful three months. I was miserable. Hated it and eventually dropped out with a 3.5 average. So, I didn’t really drop out I just left for greener pastures. It was there I borrowed somebody’s CD of Into the Great Wide Open.
Wasn’t that a great album? Loved the cover too. The song that swept me away was the title track. I loved everything about it. Even the added jingle after the lyric His leather jacket had chains that would jingle was cool. If you check the flow of the lyrics it’s true poetry.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers eventually landed on my list of bands to see live. His tours seemed elusive or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention but eventually I scored tickets, just three years ago, and in many respects that evening forever changed how I’d see a concert.
I saw him from the second row, the closest seats I’ve ever landed. Petty proved larger than life, towering over me as he came to the edge of the stage so many times. I had to take a moment every now and then to really soak in the fact that Tom Petty was mere feet from me. Tom Petty! I talked it about it for days after. It was a remarkable experience and if you wish, can read my review of the Hypnotic Eye tour here.
Little did I know, that would be the last and only time I’d see him in concert. His 40th Anniversary Tour did not stop in Portland and seeing such an icon at a baseball stadium three hours away wasn’t in the cards for me. The thing is I don’t completely regret not tackling the trip. Usually I’d kick myself for not making the effort after aforementioned bad news. But massive outdoor venues rarely impress and it probably would not have lived up to the previous show. Let my memory remain.
Losing Mr. Petty is a big deal.
Use all the cliché words and he fits the musician bill. Furthermore, he wasn’t that old. His future plans included another album or two and at least limited touring. He didn’t know us, but we knew him and he was in our life for 30, even 40 years even if we weren’t in his life.
We don’t like losing those close to us.
To say a musician we’ve never met is a close friend or family member is a farce. But how many of us use music to get through trying times? We all have a soundtrack to our lives and Mr. Petty’s music is on so many unreleased compilations.
We will never get a new Tom Petty album nor will we ever see him play again. “His music lives on” is of little comfort. You can say it, but I don’t accept it. A small percentage of us, I think, have it in our DNA to find music quite moving. It affects us deeply and when it happens that musician etches his or her spirit into our lives. And when they die, we feel it. Not like an actual friend or family member but in a different way no one else feels. Regardless, it still hurts.
Getting old sucks and every now and then we’re reminded of this in small ways and in big ways. The death of Mr. Petty was one such a reminder. Depending on your DNA it was a big deal or a passing minute. I closed my review of the Hypnotic Eye Tour with “As long as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to tour, indeed rock and roll is still alive.”
No, rock and roll didn’t die this week, but perhaps a large chunk out of its foundation. However, Mr. Petty comes from a long line of similar musicians and in the coming years, sadly, we’re going to have to say more goodbyes.