Another huge piece of my adolescence is irretrievably lost to the world. Tom Petty, front man for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, has died at the age of 66. First Prince, now Tom Petty. The Eagles have begun dying off. Basically, all my good music is slowly falling forever silent.
Petty was one of my favorites. His vocals complemented the sound of my ’69 Chevelle’s 396 engine extremely well and I blared him and the Heartbreakers as loudly as my Sparkomatic 6×9 speakers would let me. He had great songs; songs which spoke to a teenage boy in the midst of figuring out life wasn’t what he’d been told it would be. Songs like “Here Comes My Girl” captured the young love I felt for more than one young lady back then.
My personal favorite Tom Petty song was one of his later ones off his album Wildflowers called “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It came out in 1994 and the line from the chorus, “You don’t know how it feels to be me,” nearly made me come out of my seat the first time I heard it because is so encapsulated how I felt just out of college with no job, no prospects, and — it felt like — no friends to speak of. I’d drive around in my little white S-10 pickup truck and play it over and over. Sometimes, I still listen to it and it still hits home . . . some days more than others.
Tom Petty had the good fortune of being at the zenith of his fame back when MTV launched and actually played music videos, if any of you can believe MTV did play videos. He had some fascinating and intricate videos I remember well. One, “Don’t Come ‘Round Here No More,” was downright horrific as a distraught Alice was chased through a psychedelic Wonderland ruled by a Mad Hatter with Petty’s face. Several scenes were surreal but the closing shot of Alice, having turned into a girl shaped cake, being devoured by the denizens of Wonderland scored highest on the creep-o-meter.
I also remember “Into the Great Wide Open” as a four minute cautionary tale about seeking fame and fortune only to find it all to brief. In that video, a young, fresh faced Eddie gets off the bus in Hollywood. In the course of the song, he meets a girl who teaches him to play guitar, gets a job as a doorman at a club, and starts trying to make it in the music business. What the video shows that the lyrics don’t quite make as plain is Eddie and his lover actually make the big time . . . at least for a little while before it all comes crashing down around him as he takes his place as a one hit wonder on the scrap heap at the end of the boulevard of broken dreams.
For all his amazing music, I can’t help but feel sorry for Tom Petty in a way though. True, he went out on top of his game — his last three shows of what was to be his last ever tour sold out completely. His fans never deserted him. Unfortunately, he ended up not getting what he hoped for in his golden years. In one of his last interviews he remarked that he and his fellow bandmates were all “on the backside of our sixties now” and it was time to stop touring and settle down. He talked about how he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren and take it easy for awhile.
Now, he won’t get the chance.
Instead, he, George, and Roy can start a jam session while they wait on the rest of the Traveling Wilburys to arrive at the great concert venue in the sky. Rock on Tom.
And for the rest of you all, remember I love you and keep those feet clean.