I’m usually pretty unaffected by celebrity deaths. Who are they to me? Or perhaps more importantly, who was I to them? Maybe someone who watched a movie of theirs or bought an album…saw them on TV? Of course, there are exceptions. When David Bowie passed, it was a major bummer. Not because I had ever been a particular fan of his music, but more for the fact that his presence had been so ubiquitous in my life. He was a brilliant guy, full of passion and purpose. Yeah, when he died I felt it. Tom Petty is different. I genuinely loved the man. I loved his music, I loved his personality…the way he looked…his badass attitude. He was just such a cool motherfucker. I grew up with Tom Petty. He was a beloved icon of my generation and with his passing, we lose part of ourselves – part of our collective heart and identity. His death is a giant loss for Generation X.
Just the other day, I was listening to “American Girl” on the radio and remarked to myself just how fantastic it was…so perfectly crafted…so well expressed. It explodes out of the speakers, a joyful jangle, bursting with American spirit. I swear, I’ve heard that tune thousands of times and I never get sick of it. He had a million of them – stone cold classics…”Breakdown,” “Free Fallin’,” “Refugee”. Tom Petty is up there with the great ones: Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan…Tom is firmly in that pantheon.
I cried when I learned he passed. It was involuntary. He meant something to me. I felt a connection with him that went beyond the typical fandom. Millions of others feel the same way. We got to know him through his interviews and his music. And those videos of his – he had some of the best: “You Got Lucky,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Into The Great Wide Open”. You could tell he cared about them. They were always colourful…singular. He made the effort, for his fans, to always give it everything he had. He was consistent – he never let you down.
There was always a touch of sadness to him too. It made him more accessible, more lovable…knowable. He had a shitty childhood with a fucked up, alcoholic father. He escaped through sheer will and a one in a million talent. When Wildflowers was released, I was obsessed with it. It played on a constant loop. there was a plaintive quality to its songs, that was by turns desperate, strung out and tenaciously hopeful. He sounded like a man who’d had his heart shredded– the ultimate breakup album. When I learned he was getting a divorce soon after, it was no surprise. He had told us all about it on that record. I mean, Christ – “Wake Up Time” gives me chills every time I put it on.
Tom Petty was a goddamned genius. There, I said it. Some might feel his brand of Americana was merely an extension of other bands like The Byrds or The Flying Burrito Brothers…fuck that. Tom Petty blew all of them away – they were amateur hour comparatively. His songwriting ability was profound. His lyrics deeply resonated with the masses in their simplicity…simple but not simplistic.
I’m going to miss the guy. Having him around made life a bit more bearable, knowing that there were people that talented…that goddamned cool. He shared it with all of us – his music, his beauty, his love, his tireless effort. So many of the beautiful ones die young. He left us too early, but he’ll always be part of our lives…he’s been woven inexorably into the fabric of our hearts and psychology. And his music…will live forever. Long after we’re all dead and gone.