It has been a crap year for deaths, I have come to that age where the influencers of my youth have grown old and start departing this round green and blue ball we all ride on. When I heard of his passing I was not prepared on how hard it would hit me. For me, Tom Petty was that one artist that sent you down a different musical road then what you were used to. I was still listening to the New Kids on the Block and the bubble gum pop that was safe music in my parent’s eyes. I, of course, was able to listen to The Beatles but at that age their musical genius was not understood to me. I don’t want to sound like the old man on the lawn but I grew up when MTV played music videos. I was nine when I saw the first video that really took me by surprise, Tom Petty’s Don’t Come Around Here No More. I had just read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and of course loved the Disney animated movie. I just happened to catch the tail end of the video and I was mesmerized by it.
There was Alice laying on this checker board set in cake form, while the Mad Hatter and others were cutting into her and eating her up. Then they pull out of the camera while Alice is screaming and you hear the swallowing sound and it was Petty swallowing up Alice. I thought to myself that I had to see the whole thing again. So I waited to watch the whole thing, tape in the VCR ready to record. I was not so much into the music aspect of it all at this point just needed to watch the whole thing. A few hours later I caught it, in all its glory. It was the first time I thought of music videos as an art form, remember I was nine. After watching the video a few times over I started listening to the words. I knew it was harder then what I listened to and I had this feeling that there was just more behind it than anything NKOTB ever did. I remembered the name that popped up at the beginning and end of the video on the bottom left of the screen. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers was burnt into my memory forever thanks to the number of times that I watched that video.
A few weeks later I went into my local record store to look for other Tom Petty tapes. I saw Damn the Torpedoes and that cover of this tall, lankly man who most would not be considered a pretty boy front man. I listened to that tape so much that I went back a few months later and bought another. I am not going to list every album or song he has done, we all know them. If you do not then you are missing out, stop right now and go pick up an album. Cannot go wrong with The Greatest Hit, Wildflower, or the underrated The Last DJ. His music had some of the best straight forward story driven songs of any artist. There was no fluff or double meanings, it was just his heart and soul pushed out into the universe. He also wrote music and scored for Ed Burns’s film She’s The One. He was the new front man for what many may call Southern Rock. He elevated that genre to its purist form.
I can go on about his career as a voice actor with his appearance on The Simpsons episode “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” or is recurring role as Lucky on King Of The Hill. That he played a weird future version of himself in the Kevin Costner bomb The Postman, which is not as bad as they say. He was a strong supporter of artistic control. This caused some issues with labels, but no one ever did not want to work with him. He thought music was a shared experience, an act that was communal. Not only in the music community, but most importantly by his many fans.
As I listen to my Tom Petty Radio on SiriusXM, I hear colleges of his, friends, people who played with him, all say the same thing. He was just a nice guy who loved music and loved playing. That is why The Traveling Wilbury’s was the super group of super groups. Only two albums and both are fantastic. To get a group like Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne to make a record with no egos and for the love of it, they all must have had that same spark. The spark that tells every one of us to go out and create, not because you want to make money or just want fame, no, because you want to tell a story or any kind. A story of love found, of loves lost, and most importantly of heartbreaks.