Some artists stick with you, through good times and bad, like a trusted friend you’ve never met.
I remember the first time I heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was 1979 and I was a junior in high school — the song was Refuge. As soon as I heard that song, it resonated with me. I loved the musical snarl and punch, I loved Petty’s drawl and attitude, I loved everything about it.
It’s a curious thing how we connect to artists – musicians specifically. For me and Tom Petty, it was a convergence of things — a perfect storm of his aggressive-edged rock and roll and my teen angst, bottled-up energy, insecurity, and the malaise of adolescence.
When I first heard Refuge in 1979, it felt like chemical reaction in my mind. For three minutes and twenty-two seconds, I felt clarity, like the song physically pushed shit aside in my head – so it was just me and the music – I remember there was something pure about the experience. I suppose that’s why I kept going back to Tom Petty for 38 years – and he never disappointed. For me, that’s what was so special about Tom Petty – he grew as an artist — aged gracefully, which allowed me to grow with him. As much as I loved Refugee as a teenager, listening to that song as an adult was mostly a way of reconnecting to my youth. As Tom matured, he became a master songwriter, tapping into the complexities of human relationships – doing so with sparse simple language – clarity.
When I heard Tom Petty had died, I cried — sitting alone in front of my laptop. With a conference call a little over an hour away, I got up, found my iPod, connected it to a Bluetooth speaker, turned up the volume, hit shuffle, and cried a little more.
Later that afternoon, I went into my son’s room, he was hunched over his laptop, I touched him on the shoulder and he broke — we both did — had a real good cry – together.
Tom Petty was an integral part of my life – from adolescence to fatherhood, he was my go-to artist — always a drop of the needle away, a CD shuffle away, or an iPod click away — he never failed to lift me and help me through.
R.I.P. Tom Petty.