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thank you, tom petty

October 5, 2017

From the very beginning.

I was born in 1984. I was born into a world that already had Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises and dozens of Tom Petty songs that still sound simultaneously classic and brand new today. There was never any “discovering” Tom Petty for me because he was always there.

From my earliest snapshot memories of childhood – those hazy ones you can’t quite wrap your hands around because they’re just fleeting fragments. The first record I remember loving was The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. It came out when I was 4 years old and I can still see those dark sunglassed faces leaning up against the stereo in our house. I could sing all the words to “Handle With Care” before I had the slightest idea who Jeff, Roy, George, Bob and Tom were or how important they would become in my life.

I loved the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” video on MTV. I’d never seen anything like it. I already felt a kinship with Alice in Wonderland because in the confused way a kid’s brain makes connections I thought maybe it was about me – Alison Wonderland. It scared me when they all ate Alice’s cake dress at the end of the video but I was too hooked to ever look away.

When my parents got the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits CD I played it so much that part of me still always expects to hear “Something in the Air” whenever “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” ends. At 9 years old I was pretty sure “I Need to Know” was my favorite song.

My first rock & roll concert was a Tom Petty show with my dad when I was 16. I loved it.

In college I experienced my first true heartbreak around the time his Highway Companion album came out. I played “Damaged By Love” and “Square One” until I couldn’t wring any more feeling out of my twisted-up insides.

Every step of the way, every stage of my life – Tom was there. Woven into the fabric of my very existence.

I’ve been deeply fortunate to see him live many times since that first concert at 16. And for the last 11 years with a level of access that I could never have even dreamed about. Every single show is a memory I treasure.

The last time I saw Tom and The Heartbreakers was the first of their 3-night closing run at the Hollywood Bowl, just two weeks ago now. I watched the whole show wandering through the crowd, taking in different vantage points and reveling in the shared delight of the audience. I stopped to watch several songs from the tip-top of the Bowl, letting the music flow through me and the 17,000 other people singing along to every word – so awash in gratitude that my eyes welled up with joyful tears. I didn’t know then that it would be goodbye.

I know I’m far from alone in claiming a personal relationship with a majority of the songs in Tom’s extensive catalog. Each album I discovered, each track I connected with became a part of me. His songs are mile markers in my life, guide posts as I’ve navigated the world and growing up.

As horrible as the past few days have been the deepest comfort is knowing his music will always be with us, there to help pull through the dark times and to amplify the good times. What a gift that is to leave behind.

Thank you, Tom. So much.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2017 10:18 pm

    How awesome that you got to experience his show at The Bowl!!! Many of us are envious of the encounters you’ve had. Cherish the good!!! Dawn :))

  2. Aunt Karen permalink
    October 6, 2017 9:09 am

    Beautifully written, as always, Al. I never got to see Tom but I definitely lived vicariously through you and your experiences. “Breakdown” was the first song I knew from Tom but “American Girl” will always be my favorite. Some people just seem to be immortal, like they won’t suffer the same fate as the rest of us. Through his music Tom will be immortal. RIP.

  3. Grandma permalink
    October 7, 2017 9:06 am

    I’m an old fogie, but do love some of the music he made, and your tribute was very touching. You’ll always have his songs and your own memories of his concerts. Grams

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