Rediscovering Tom Petty
Tom Petty died this week. A college radio station today left regular programming to play the entire Damn The Torpedoes album. Century City - a song I hadn't heard in years - played and I knew every damn word. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were the garage band everyone loved. They were taken for granted. The group down the street that always jammed and you sorta figured always would. Until this week.
It is a testament to Petty's skills as a songwriter and musician that people seldom named him as their number one favorite but knew every hit song he had and willingly did carpool karaoke when his songs played on the radio. They were the garage band we'd love to sit in the driveway, light a joint, pop a beer, and listen to them rock our miserable average lives away. My favorite song of his is Even The Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes). There's few songs more common man than that one. That's probably why as late as last week, the group was playing sold out concerts on their 40th Anniversary Tour. A tour Petty said might be his last.
His riffs and lyrics were economical. More importantly they hit the right chord and stuck with us. He rocked hard but also gave us softer gems like Wildflowers. He played in one of the greatest super groups of all time, The Traveling Wilburys. How you beat Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan in the same band, I don't know. Three of those five are now passed away.
My brother reminded me of a good story of how Petty took on the courts and record companies. At the top of his heyday, he fought for control and setting the price of his work. He couldn't release an album for a couple years because of the legal hassles. Knowing it was going to court, he placed the master tapes in a car, gave the keys to a friend, along with his credit card, and told him to keep driving until he heard otherwise. The guy spent like a year driving around the country, living off the credit card. In court, Petty honestly told the judge he had no clue where those tapes were.
I've spent the last couple days rediscovering the body of Tom Petty's work. The songs never left my music rotation but had been more on the peripheral. After all, I didn't expect that garage band ever to go away. Now that they have, the silence is deafening.