I saw Tom Petty live, once, 1986 or 87 or 89, at the old Civic Stadium in wonderfully gray and slow and non-corporate Portland. The Heartbreakers were backing Dylan on one of Bob’s desultory tours from that era, but they came on first and ran through a set that none of us could really hear. So we drank beer and pretended to have fun.
His most overlooked albums are Echo from 1999 and a soundtrack for an obscure Edward Burns movie, She’s the One, from 1996, that isn’t even listed on his Wiki discography page! In fact, this latter record is truly incredible for its curt storytelling. Petty even covers Beck’s “Asshole” and Lucinda Williams’ “Change the Locks.” No one talks about it today. It’s a phenomenal, strange, beautiful record. I only wish I wouldn’t have dumped it a thrift store when I was administering poor hospice care for myself when after dying last fall.
Petty was probably the most unattractive rock and roller of all time. But it didn’t matter then. They put him on album covers and his record sold. It was the music. He fought the suits his whole life. He usually won.
I probably the only writer in American who ever wrote a short story with Tom Petty in the title. It was a Christmas tale called The Tom Petty Christmas Mission and I consider it one of the best, most eccentric things I have ever written. You can buy it as e-book on my web site and see how much Petty’s music infiltrated me. My ex wife did the wonderful illustration for the cover. I wish all his fans could read this. They would see a different side to his influence.
In my former ancient life as a teacher, I played at least a dozen Petty songs at our lunch jams, open mics and rock festivals. At Newport High School, we actually staged an all Tom Petty lineup. I played “Free Falling,” “Even the Losers Get Lucky,” “Last Dance with Mary Jane” and my favorite Petty song of all time, “You Wreck Me.” It contains perhaps the only line about corduroy in the history of rock and roll. I’ll be the boy at the high school dance / I’ll be the one in the corduroy pants.
We rocked the living hell out of that one. I was wearing corduroy at the time.
RIP Tom Petty. You were/are a part of my creative life.
And I know those 8-track and cassettes are still out there. I will find them. They will be heard again.
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