Thomas Earl Petty 10/20/1950-10/02/2017
I’ve been thinking about this post all week. It doesn’t help that I’m constantly reminded while I’m at work. SiriusXM had a particularly close relationship with Tom Petty. As far as I know, he was one of the only Artists that maintained a radio program that he hosted on a channel dedicated to his style of music. Tom Petty Radio is still active today with the same playlist but also with an honorary special program covering the release of “An American Treasure” box set that was just released.
I was surprised, when I looked back to see what my thoughts were this time last year, to find out that all my posts about Tom’s passing was done on Facebook. I made no blog post at the time. That just seems weird to me because I remember at the time being so confused; the news was so on top of the lead that reports were conflicting. I was also confused why I cared so much. I had not felt I was a particularly big Tom Petty fan, and comparing to active fans is not actually possible, since they are some of the most loyal and dedicated fans for sure.
In the end, Tom passed from mixed drug toxicity brought on from too much pain management on conditions and injuries that had compounded before and during his then final tour. Tom’s wife, Dana, clarifies this in a recent Billboard article on life after Tom. I remember it being very bittersweet news since that tour was a 40th year celebration tour for the fans as much as for Tom and the Heartbreakers.
Immediately after this news I dove much deeper into why I felt so impacted by his passing and a couple things came up. One, I had no idea just how much Tom Petty music came up all throughout my memories of my life. Two, I had no idea that he was from Florida. As am I. I grew up in Central Florida, Hillsborough County. Meanwhile, about 120 north (130 by car, according to Google) while I was learning to walk and talk, Tom Petty was learning to rock in Gainesville. There is no other personal correlation between he and I and some would say this is a stretch. But it still strikes a cord in me. I can’t explain it beyond that.
Still hot in recent memory is the passing of Prince and then David Bowie. Unarguably both humongous impacts on Rock & Roll. And yet I did not have the same reaction to each of their passing. And I think that is because of that closeness of vicinity of where we (Tom and I) are from that somehow resonates with me.
So I went back and cruised his discography. I’m not going to, because I really can’t do it all justice, list all the songs Tom Petty has made that I find important. You can pick any one and, as I discovered, I can recall a clear memory of where I was when I first heard it. But for some idea of how I back-in to Tom Petty Fandom it goes something like this:
I was likely hearing all the early radio hits throughout my childhood, but the first album I remember playing from beginning to end was ‘Full Moon Fever’ because my friend Jake already LOVED Tom Petty. He was driving a car-load of friends and we were on a weekend trip to hike up the side of Mt. St. Helens. The album was new-ish then, so this had to be in the early ’90s (Yes, the album came out in ’89, but I was still in High School then and this trip took place a couple years after that.) We listened to that album over and over mostly because it was just that damn good. To this day ‘Running Down a Dream’ is still my favorite Tom Petty song. In a time where I thought Sting and The Police were the Alpha and the Omega, that derby-style take off of that song would always make me raise my head in attention.
After that it was pretty much back to the occasional hits. I always listened when there was new Tom Petty news. And through the 90’s I developed my music tastes, which would nostalgically hover around 80’s Pop and Rock sounds. SO in that way, old Heartbreakers tracks would start coming back on replay. ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ (interesting entry on Songfacts about this tune) was the dedicated song to one summer fling I was involved in then.
To be honest, there is still a lot of his music I have yet to listen to. I’ve got Early Heartbreakers covered, and the early solo career. The time with The Traveling Wilburys consists mostly of the Hits in my wheelhouse. But I think that is one of the blessings of not following Tom Petty quite so closely. There is still a lot for me to discover. And like his wife said in the Billboard article, “Its a beautiful gift he gave us for a long time.”
Maybe its just been the saturation of coverage on SiriusXM in the last week. Or maybe my music appreciation just grows as the years begin to take our generations notables into the next existence. Whatever it is, I’m appreciating what has been left behind to explore. And if life is just a dream, I’m glad well-crafted Rock and Roll has been there to play in the soundtrack. Thanks, Tom.
The Documentary “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Running Down A Dream” (2009) (Running Time: 3hrs 58 mins) is available on Amazon Prime Video. It only follows Tom and the band up to his 30th Anniversary, but it still full of great footage and stories from his life.
The newly released “An American Treasure” is in all music outlets. I’m currently listening to it on Amazon Music.