What can one say about such an influential musician that hasn’t been said many times before? Petty (with and without The Heartbreakers) was not only a brilliant musician and songwriter, but he was transcendental in that he had staying power through 3 generations of fans–tragically passing after completing an extensive 40th anniversary tour. I first really got into Tom Petty in middle school with the laid back grooves of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and “Free Fallin'” serving as the downtempo segments for the soundtrack to a rather tumultuous time in any kid’s life. Uncle Teej gave me their greatest hits album for Christmas one year, to the chagrin of my dad who scoffed at my listening to “druggie music”. Petty’s music had soul–something I didn’t hear often in popular music of the day–and it made a fitting foil to my musical staples like TMBG, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Chumbawamba (Yeah, I actually know and like more than one Chumbawamba song!).
Like Petty, I found the South too confined–too small for my ambitions, and I moved west. Thirty-seven years after Petty left Gainesville, Florida for Los Angeles, I was crossing the continent with several of Petty’s tracks (“Runnin’ Down a Dream” frequently turned up) offering portions of yet another soundtrack for a transitional period in my life.
Here I am again, thinking of changes to come in my life and career, and I’m brought again to Tom Petty. I look at all the nonsense going on in the world and all the difficulties (great and small) that we all face every day, and there’s one voice ringing clear and true–with all of America’s purple mountains’ majesty and amber waves of grain behind it–reminding me to not back down. Thanks, Tom.