“It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”-Bob Dylan
As the old saying goes, “Wanna make God laugh, tell him you got plans…” Even though he was talking about winding down the major months long tours, he was far settling down. There was the reissue of Wildflowers, his second solo record, on the horizon. Even talk of a residency tour at small theaters around the country featuring the album. He was excited about the next record from The Shelters (he produced their first). He wanted to spend more time with family.
Tom Petty died last week at the age of 66. Found at his home in full cardiac arrest, he was taken to the hospital where no brain activity was found. Taken off life support, he passed sometime later that night.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers soaked up the best influences, the blues of Chess Records, Elvis, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, and the Byrds. But at their core, Tom and the band were garage rockers. Cue up the outtakes/demos collection Nobody’s Children for proof.
His songs had a universal appeal. The lead role in American Girl could have easily been from Iowa as Malibu or Gainesville. In the songs of Petty, a loser could get lucky sometimes. He could sum up the joy of seeing a girl walk down the street or the resignation of watching her walk out the door when you were too drunk to follow. And you weren’t the only one to roll another joint on the way to getting to the point. I know punk rockers to jazz heads that give him respect. Whether you lived in a trailer park or a room at the top, you probably liked Tom Petty.
His career had few missteps, yes there was the confederate flag backdrop for the Southern Accents tour, which he later said was stupid. There was also a brief dance with heroin in the 90’s. He fought record companies over ownership of songs, prices of his albums and politicians that tried to coop his music.
In the end, he has left behind a formidable catalog of songs, hailing the underdogs and outcasts. A sonic influence that touched such disparate artists as The Stokes (the beginning of Last Night an almost complete lift of American Girl’s opening) and Sam Smith (realizing Stay With Me borrowed heavily from I Won’t Back Down, gave Tom a writing credit).
Hard to guess what will happen next, another clearing of the vaults, releasing albums that were in process, or live recordings that have remained unheard. But as Lucinda Williams recently wrote, “You were born a rebel and it’s ok to go home now”.