I'm not thrilled about living in a world without Tom Petty. I'll do it, but it's gonna suck.
He is the most durable musical touchstone in my life. When I was in junior high school, I took my lawn mowing money to K-Mart and bought "You're Gonna Get It", the second album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, after hearing "I Need to Know" on the radio. A few months later, I went to the Record Bar in Northgate Mall, the place I would later call home for eight years, and bought his first album. I've not missed an album since.
When I got my heart broken as only an eighteen year-old kid can, he was there. Every one after that, too. When I met my wife, in that same record store I bought that debut album, I happened to be behind the counter when she bought a copy of "Don't Come Around Here No More". Our first date was to see them play the Omni in Atlanta, on the "Pack Up the Plantation" tour. That summer, we played that record down to the white in the grooves. It was the soundtrack to one of the best times of my life.
When I started playing in bands, it was the lean, angry sound of the Heartbreakers that Terry Crigger and I sought to emulate. Every bar band I played in had a couple of Petty songs in the bag. When I sang, it was his plaintive tenor I aimed for. When I wrote a song, I tried to achieve his "Hemingway Iceberg effect", simple words perfectly strung together, not showing a lot on the surface, but revelatory underneath, with dimensions to be forever uncovered.
He gave a voice to losers, dreamers, and perpetual outsiders. Every girl thought "American Girl": was written just for her, and every boy was the lucky bastard in "Magnolia". When we got older, we understood "Southern Accents", and smiled wistfully at "The Best of Everything". We realized "Swingin' " was about the cost of living life on one's terms, and "Room at the Top of the World" was a place we all got to visit on occasion.
He was a Wilbury, a city mayor in the dystopian future of a Kevin Costner movie, a recurring character on "It's Gary Shandling's show", and Hank Hill's nephew-in-law Lucky on "King of the Hill".
Forty years after his band Mudcrutch arrived in Los Angeles, only to break up, he reformed them, with the original members, some long out of the music business and firmly ensconced in the real world, and they recorded two albums and toured all over the country.
He played his final concert last Monday night, the finale of the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Tour. The last song he played was "American Girl".
My old friend Jeffrey Sweeney said it best: thanks for every song.
October 2, 2017