RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone

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*Brilliant photo taken from the inside album sleeve of ‘Damn The Torpedoes’

As far as Mondays go, yesterday was one of the worst. I’ve never liked Mondays… I awoke to the horrible news that some nut job had shot up a music festival in Las Vegas. Add to that, the usual Monday work “horrible-ness” brought on by my Corporate Masters and it was already shaping up to be a bad day. But then the unspeakable happened. My friend the Jean-Genie texted to tell me the devastating news that Tom Petty, music icon, songwriter, singer/guitar player, legend had suffered a massive heart attack and was in critical condition. I was out at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium when the news he had passed came…then, weirdly, it came out that maybe he wasn’t dead, that he was fighting. I could hear Petty’s music all over the parking lot. Perhaps there was hope… Alas, it was false hope. I just can’t believe Tom Petty is gone…. too soon, too soon. He was only 66. I just saw him on the 40th Anniversary Tour in June… (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2107)

Tom Petty was one of only a handful of artists I can say have written the soundtrack to my life. I own every album, box set, live box set, literally everything that Petty ever put out. His music is a constant in my life, like the North Star. Petty always said that the reason the Heartbreakers weren’t “bigger” was because they were always so consistent. I would argue with Tom a little on that point… I think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were spectacular. My heart goes out to his family, his band and all of my fellow Petty fans out there. Its going to be a tough few days…this one is gonna leave a mark. In his honor, I will be shuffling his entire catalog…which might take a while…

It was awful to lose David Bowie a couple of Januarys ago, but Bowie was always so “otherworldly” that he seemed distant. Tom Petty felt like a friend… someone you could sit next to at a bar. He wrote about things that everybody understood: love, loss, driving real fast and of course the South. While he was a part of the 70s southern-California music scene that included the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, Petty and his Heartbreakers always remained firmly rooted in the Florida south they grew up in… and lets face it, they also rocked a lot harder.

So many memories…. so many. I will share but of a few of my own memories…I know all of us have similar memories of the man and his music.

I can still remember being in Junior High School and buying my first Petty LP, ‘Damn The Torpedoes,’ his first masterpiece. I would just stare at his picture, above, on the inner sleeve and wonder, where did this cool, long-blonde-hair guy, smoking a cigarette come from? I’ve always loved that picture. I figured he was the coolest person in the world… “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Refugee” were the big hits, but as a skinny kid with acne, “Even The Losers” was the tune that felt like it was my anthem. KY/102 used to have this bootleg of “Breakdown” that sounded like it was recorded in a bar, not even a club, a bar… that was for me the definitive version of that song. I’d do anything to get a copy of that, I’ve never been able to find it. After ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ and hearing that version of “Breakdown” I bought his first two, fantastic albeit overlooked LPs, ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,’ and ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ and I’ve been buying his albums on the day they came out ever since.

‘Hard Promises’ was his second masterpiece and was the album he was going to name ‘$8.98′ after his dumb ass record company threatened to charge $9.98 for “premium” artists’ albums. He always fought for his fans… I can remember breaking up with my high school girlfriend when I went to college to the strains of “You Got Lucky” and “Change of Heart,” songs which still evoke those memories (I was the one who was lucky, and it was her that had the change of heart). His music has literally been that much a part of my life. It was during those college years, that I finally got to see Petty and the Heartbreaks live, on the “Pack Up The Plantation Tour” in support of ‘Southern Accents,’ which is a flawed but still essential Petty record and one of my favorites… “Rebels” and “Dogs On The Run” are always in high rotation here at B&V. That was the beginning of a lifelong series of Tom Petty concerts for me… I even got to see Tom and the Heartbreakers backing up Bob Dylan at Sandstone Amphitheater… I thought the solo Petty/Heartbreaks portions of the show were the best parts.

I was living in exile, in Arkansas, when ‘Full Moon Fever’ came out, Petty’s first “solo” album. I hated living there and I hated my very challenging job… every morning I’d put on “I Won’t Back Down” and that song gave me the strength to get in my car and drive to work each day. By the time Petty was touring for that LP, I’d moved back to KC (I guess I did “back down” after all). My friend Stormin’ and I weren’t going to go to the show, we were both broke, but our friends who had tickets convinced us to go down to Kemper and scalp tickets. Some guy sold us 10th row tickets for below face value. Our seats were better than our pals… The show was amazing, but up in the top deck, in a hallway in the roped off section of the arena behind the stage, a couple in silhouette danced to the music…. they were better stage props than even the wooden Indian and those two seared the memory of that show into my mind.

“Wildflowers” was such a masterpiece, it remains in high rotation for the Rock Chick and I to this day. “You Wreck Me” is such a great rock song. I was thrilled that at the 40th Anniversary show in June, he played a small, acoustic set from that record. There’s not a bad moment on there… They should hand that LP out at every music appreciation class on every college campus out there.

After ‘Wildflowers’ one could say that Petty’s star started to fade a bit. There were still sold-out concert tours, but radio had changed and classic rock guys weren’t getting played on the radio any more. I always loved the dark, rocking album, ‘Echo,’ but it didn’t do as well as ‘Wildflowers’ and Petty reacted with the angry, ‘Last DJ,’ an album I still own… there are some good tracks on that record, like all of his records…”Dreamville” and “Like a Diamond” are great songs… That’s just it, even on his rare weaker moments, there were always great songs on those records.

Petty’s last three records, ‘Highway Companion,’ ‘Mojo,’ and ‘Hypnotic Eye’ rank up there amongst his best work. Alas, without the broad radio airplay that artists used to enjoy in the old days, I’m not sure those albums ever got the exposure they so richly deserve. When you take those records and add in the two albums he did with his superb “side-project” Mudcrutch, his latter body of work is incredible. I urge everyone to check those albums out, they’re essential Petty listening. That late career hot streak is one of many, many reasons Petty’s untimely, early demise is such a tragedy. The man had so much more music in him.

I know this post has meandered a bit and that I’ve indulged in my own personal memories and experience with the man and his music. I remain devastated. I will cherish the memory of the many of his concerts I saw over the years. I’m so glad my friend Stormin’ helped me get tickets to his final KC show this June… I fear I might have missed it if he hadn’t reached out. I wish I’d taken my daughter to see him when I had the chance… like my friend Stormin’ did for his daughter, I turned mine onto Petty early on… These rock stars who come through town, I’m telling ya, buy the ticket, they might not come back… especially these days. We all share his wonderful body of work which will live on for generations… But make no mistake, the world is a dimmer place today without Tom Petty than it was yesterday.

It’s a long, dark ride. Take care of yourselves and those you love…

“I’m gonna free fall, out into nothing, gonna leave this world for a while…” I miss the man already….

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2 thoughts on “RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone

  1. I would like to echo that it’s a sad day. “Long After Dark” is still one of my all-time favorite albums.

    I have a copy of the version of “Breakdown” that you mentioned. It was a live in studio recording that people from his label. It’s an extremely rare promotional recording only given to radio stations. Maybe it will receive an official release someday, if they go through his archives again. We can only hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Been listening to the whole catalog today… so sad. I knew if anybody had that version of “Breakdown,” it would be you, Dr. Rock! I can only hope it sees light of day some time… you can hear some guy yell in the background, “mono, stereo” or something like that… It’s the definitive version. I hate how we keep losing these artists… I don’t like this new norm.

      Like

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