My memories of Tom Petty, the American songster with his casually genius rendering of the basics of livin’ — is filled with the acceptance that I’m flexible when it comes to crowded genres. Unlike most of my earliest influences — I discovered Petty after arriving in the States in the early nineties — to pursue my college education.
The first introduction was via a music video on MTV that depicted a young Johnny Depp — going through the motions of a Hollywood star who learns the consequences of falling Into The Great Wide Open. Yep! MTV used to actually showcase musicians, in their element, against the backdrop of fans or crew depending on the inspiration.
I honest to God still remember the delicious chill of Petty’s voice giving the melody permission to welcome my imitation into the folklore of America.
That was the hit of ’91 — and then I backtracked to the Heartbreaker days and stayed the course as others followed, including favorites — I Won’t Back Down and Learning to Fly. Also, Don’t Come Around Here No More and You Don’t Know How It Feels made great impressions.
The thing about Petty who recently died after suffering full cardiac arrest at the age of 66 — was that he remained the standard of what music should be — even if we’ve forgotten. I suspect that his untimely passing will undoubtedly evoke an interest that hopefully reintroduces others who badly need his particular method of soothing.
And that’s what legacies and traditions are for — it’s to reel us in when we stray far enough to wonder where we are and how we got there.
The scene at the moment is happening without me. As a creative my palate has never rejected anything authentic. My range of tolerance gave me Nirvana and En Vogue in the same breath.
Yet, when my uber driver allows the radio to play — I’m stuck trying to figure out why every track sounds exactly the same. The distinguishable interludes only happen sporadically, due to the inclusion of artists that represent an era that is swiftly fading.
That’s why the greats like Tom Petty dare us into nostalgic fantasies each time the notes hit and the warmth of camaraderie overtakes the anger of the week at the dive bar on 53rd and Lexington.
Or, there’s the moment of complete release as the nausea from before gives way to the win of the season and the joy erupts into verses that have your back as you belt them out with glee.
My joy is temporarily on hold with the news of another great one leaving before we’re ready to say goodbye.
The catalog of hits still remain and will endure, but the next time will be different. The same treatment afforded Prince, Whitney, Michael and all the others has been dutifully transferred to Petty.
This means the day will come when I will joyfully hunger for the spirited strings of the heartland — filled with tales of what life can bring when you’re a hapless heartbreaker.
I will get it all back again — thanks to the guy who used his love for country as an invitation and not a barrier.
Like real musicians do.