Another music icon has been taken from us far too early. This week we lost rock-n-roller Tom Petty. Though he may be categorized as classic rock, he transcended all genres, much like his contemporaries Prince and David Bowie.
It’s even sadder that his death came after such a momentous year for him. He toured this summer for his 40th anniversary of making music. Personally, I’m kicking myself for not seeing him one of the three nights he played at The Hollywood Bowl. But I thought there would be more time…
I remember my sister bringing home “Damn the Torpedoes”. And though I was more of an Adam Ant 80s kid (who I DID see in concert this past weekend), I found myself borrowing this album from her quite often. The song “Refugee” stood out most, but as I got older and more Goth, “Even the Losers” became one of my anthems.
His song “American Girl” is the second song you hear in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High (one of my favorites). It is a perfect match for a movie that’s a slice of American Life in the 1980s. She may have been somebody’s baby that night, but they were all American Girls (and boys).
What I remember most about Tom Petty was his videos from the 1980s. They were simply amazing. The art direction on them was comparable (if not better) than some of the movies of the time.
In a time of event videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and David Bowie’s “Blue Jeans”, I remember MTV making a big deal about Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” video. It was a dusty look into the future, Mad Max meets Ayn Rand’s Anthem, complete with a cool-ass futuristic car.
I can’t hear the song “Don’t Come Around Here No More” without thinking of the Alice in Wonderland inspired video. Petty made a great Mad Hatter, even without saying a word he exuded a subtle madness. His always present mischievous grin shines as strong here as that of the Cheshire Cat. I’d eat any cake he served.
Most memorable may be “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, where he dances with Kim Basinger’s corpse. You don’t see too many music videos about necrophilia, so talk about a ground breaking artist!
Speaking of videos, my favorite Tom Petty story to tell was about the night of my going away party when I moved from Boston to California. I got home and may have been just a little drunk, so I turned on MTV to keep myself awake to sober up a bit. The video for “Freefalling” came on. I’d never seen it before, nor really listened to the song. Then I heard the line “living in Reseda” and I froze. For that was the city I was moving to in a couple of days. To this day, that song will always have a special meaning to me.
When the 90s rolled around, Nirvana and the grunge scene dominated MTV and the music scene. Older artists were not getting as much radio play as music was becoming more homogenized. Amazingly, with all that, Tom Petty may have put out his strongest and most cross-genre reaching album: “Wildflowers”.
The single and video for “You Don’t Know How It Feels” got lots of TV and radio play (sadly, MTV edited the song, removing the word “roll” from the line about rolling a joint, sigh…).
Like most artists, he’ll be remembered more for his earlier works. If you look at the setlist of his Hollywood Bowl shows, they were the perfect Tom Petty concerts. Though we wish he had more decades of performing and song writing, he went out on a high note, leaving us wanting more. RIP Tom Petty.