Remembering Tom Petty

On the heels of Sunday’s tragedy in Las Vegas, we were all stunned again to learn that rocker Tom Petty had been rushed to a hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu. And last night the 66-year old—who just wrapped up his tour which included a stop in Sacramento last month—passed away surrounded by family and members of his band…many of whom had been with him since he first started playing music in Florida in the late 1960s

Petty leaves behind some of the greatest songs in rock n roll history and a legacy that will endure for as long as people listen to music. For me and millions of others of guys who came of age in the late 1970s, Petty’s music wasn’t just something to rock to, he spoke to us. His songs addressed our alienation, our awkwardness, our occasional out-sized brashness and once in a while, the simple joys of having a girlfriend. Somehow, Petty didn’t just know his audience, he understood us. And he demonstrated it time and again, often within the confines of a perfectly-crafted three-and-a-half minute song that was catchier than pink eye in a kindergarten class.

Unlike a lot of rockers, whose best work was 30 years ago, Petty managed to remain relevant. His last album, Hypnotic Eye, rocked just as hard and was just as musically and lyrically relatable as anything he’d ever done. It was a shame classic rock radio was too stuck in the past to notice.

Petty was uncompromising, a man of strong convictions. He once said “I developed a problem with authority. Any time authority was what I interpreted as being unjust, I stood up to it, and that became my personality.” He never sold out his music to sell cars or soda, and spoke out against anything he felt wasn’t right, including, most recently, the use of the confederate flag. A southern boy, Petty had used the flag as imagery early in career but later renounced it, saying “It shouldn’t represent us in any way. It’s like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person”. 

I read his autobiography last year (can’t recommend it highly enough) I was struck by how, through all the decades, for Petty it was about the music, always. He worked his ass off to make it look, and sound, so easy.

Petty also influenced–and was loved by– musicians across the spectrum, from hard rock to country. He’d been planning to start work on a new album. Once asked what the secret to success was, he said “Do something you really like and hopefully, it pays the rent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s success.”

And as far as I’m concerned, that was Tom Petty: simple, brilliant, and humble.




More from Tom Mailey

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