Tom Petty has always been a constant. I’m not even sure when I first heard any of his songs, yet I intrinsically know all the words to all the hits. I think this may be true for more than a few folks. Like most things Americans love and have come to identify with, he fits warmly among the appeal of ordinary givens like apple pie, road-trips, and baseball. His lyrical story-telling stitched a quilt between class narratives, giving down-and-outs of all backgrounds a soundtrack they could be proud of, a sound they could display valiantly from their place as the underdog.
After all, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Petty, like most of the greats we’ve lost recently, gracefully flowed amongst genres, amassing widespread fandom with not only his talent, but also with his charm and sincerity. A musician with a career spanning 40 years having a catalog so accessible is tribute itself to how substantial Tom Petty and his messages were. He was an undeniable rocker with a sharp sense for pop melodies and structure. His songs swagger somewhere in between the way the dust flares up the first time you leave your hometown in search of everything and the way that same dust settles forever in the same spot. They are consistently relatable in their understanding of pervasive concepts like the grit of honest work, the exhilarated freedom of an open road, the fever of falling in love, and of course, the weight of a good heartbreak.
I was lucky enough to catch him in concert a few years ago, and the most striking thing I noticed was that this packed-to-the-gils show consisted of everyone from toddlers swaying on their chubby legs to the outright elderly smiling knowingly at each song. I didn’t even realize I was such a fan of Petty until this concert, where it turned out I knew every single song played, a monument to Petty’s ubiquitous presence.
What hurts the most about this loss, not only as a fan of music but as a fan of humanity, is that throughout his entire life, Tom Petty truly seemed nice, humble, and good. He was never out to do anyone any harm, he was loyal to his band, and he made it all look so fun and enjoyable, even up until his show last week at the Hollywood Bowl, where during “Learning To Fly” he let the crowd takeover the chorus as he raised his arms up in a lifted, flying motion. Losing someone so pure and so loved is like watching the casket click shut on all the myths, all the magic, of the underdogs and in this aftermath, America is a little quieter watching the dust settle.
– Submitted by Shirley Griffith, Music Design