Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tom Petty and me.

Photo by me.
My earliest memories of Tom Petty were of his videos on constant rotation in the earlier days of MTV. I always thought the videos were inventive, but my pre-teen tastes ran more towards poppier stuff, so while I always thrilled to see Alice turned into a huge cake, there were times I tires of watching Petty wander through a wasteland since it meant some of the frothier fare I preferred wasn't on the screen.

In my early teens, I appreciated his work, but thought hm a bit of a fuddy-duddy as I ventured into punk, metal and college rock (what you would now call indie, I suppose). I dug the hits, but didn't dwell on them. I do think it was probably around this time my brothers got hit by the Tom Petty bug though—they latched onto his genius before I really recognized it, that's for certain.

In my '20s I dutifully became aware of his broader catalog, the deeper cuts, and started to delve into unreleased tracks. It was probably about then that something clicked and the guy I thought was a dinosaur when I was a kid suddenly revealed himself as a visionary and a songwriter of almost scarily excellent consistency. My blind spot cleared up and what my brothers had known for years suddenly hit me as well.

I spent the next decade or so in this state, and unusually for me, didn't really do a deep dive into Petty's personal history. I think perhaps that once his genius became apparent to me, that was sufficient. Perhaps I preferred him to be more a cypher and an icon, and less flesh and blood? But in October of last year, my then-co-worker Dave suggested I read Warren Zanes' Petty: The Biography, so I took it on vacation to Florida, devoured it, and spent that week playing nothing but Tom Petty non-stop as I sat my the pool behind the house we rented.

It's only now I realize the irony of reading a Petty biography and gorging on Petty music while in Florida. How did I never make that connection before?! No matter.

Instead of his personal history demystifying his musical output, it intensified the work, in my eyes. It was the final piece of the puzzle. I had at last walked through the mirror with deep appreciation on one said and absolute fandom on the other. Sure took me long enough, huh?

Photo by me
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played Wrigley Field the day before my birthday this year. I didn’t have a +1, so I couldn’t bring Michelle, and I seriously considered giving up my ticket because I felt guilty I couldn’t take her.

Then I realized that even after all these years I had never seen Petty play live, and the word was this would be his last “big” tour, so I smartened up and went. It was pouring for the first half of the set, but even though I was soaked I was smiling he whole time.

It’s bittersweet, but I’m glad my only time seeing Petty on stage measured up to all my hopes and expectations. I spent most of yesterday hope, hope, hoping he’d pull through once the initial news reports were debunked, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Sad though today is, the man attained immortality, because his songbook will never go out of style.

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