I remember when I first saw Tom Petty on TV. It was in the early 1980’s, on MTV. The video started off with a post-apocalyptic wasteland scenario. A funky-looking roundish car drove up, and stopped. Two doors hissed up and a pair of men exited. They walked around until one of them noticed something buried in the ground. The thin, angular one, who was wearing some kind of dark top hat and big black sunglasses, picked it up… it was wrapped in plastic. He ripped the plastic off and we all saw what it was… a boom box. After inspecting it for a second, he pressed the “Play” button… and I heard Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “You Got Lucky” for the first time… and over 30 years later, I’m still not tired of it.
I thought back to that moment when I first heard that Petty had been hospitalized. Even though there were conflicting reports about whether he had passed or not, when I heard that he had no brain activity, I knew that it was a matter of time before he left this realm. I also felt so sad that a brain that had given us songs like “You Got Lucky,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Running Down A Dream,” and “Learning To Fly” was no longer functioning. Even though it had given us so much, it seemed like it had so much more to offer in the upcoming years. He was only 66.
Petty was such a presence in my life during the 80’s and early 1990’s – partly because he had so many songs on MTV over the course of that decade… but because his songs seemed to fit us all so well. “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” continue to be personal anthems to this day, no matter my age.
I’ve seen a fair amount of concerts over the course of my life – I consider myself lucky to have been able to see Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Rush, Genesis (twice), Phil Collins (four times), and Hall & Oates (twice) – but I had not seen Petty, who, by many accounts, could put on quite the live show. Now I’ll never get to… aside from YouTube videos, which isn’t anywhere near the same thing.
This has likely caused many people my age or a bit older to think about their own mortality. We’ve seen people that we grew up with die – people like Glen Frey, Prince, David Bowie… and now Petty. It’s a very sobering thing. It also makes me think about how precious life is.
Petty had a knack for putting out songs that were neither too long or too short They seemed to be the right length. That’s what I’m going to do with this too – not have it be a rambling treatise on his life and what he meant to the world with his music. There’s going to be tens of thousands of people doing that.
Instead, I think I ‘m just going to say, ” Thank you, Tom…”