By and large, the month in-between blog posts seems to fly by with increasing speed. But sometimes something happens that will freeze time temporarily. The horrific massacre in Las Vegas earlier this month is an example. And what I’d like to briefly ruminate on right now is due to another tragedy that occurred the same day.
Tom Petty was one of those musicians that somehow seemed to glide under the radar, even when his popularity was at an absolute zenith. I don’t remember an over-abundance of interviews, or reading about sordid details of his personal life, and he insisted on blending into his own band while he could have easily followed up “Full Moon Fever” with a never-ending solo career of his own. He was the quiet, respectful, junior member of “The Traveling Wilburys”, which is saying something when considering how one of his bandmates was the original “Quiet” Beatle. But what he consistently, brilliantly accomplished was a collection of great songs, written and performed in every decade of his life.
I think my appreciation for him really took hold when I took the time to absorb the then-recently-released CD “Wildflowers”. I had already loved attempting to play his earlier rock anthems while I was in a band in and after college, and thought I was alone in marveling at his growth with more “serious” albums like “Southern Accents”. And when “Free Falling” came out, I thought - well, great - this man deserves a second career; now the whole world knows how rich his gifts are! But with “Wildflowers”, I thought he was back to talking to the few of us, the people interested in his growth without an MTV backdrop or a universally-praised new single. And I thought I was the only one in my group of friends to marvel at his choice of string augmentation in “It’s Good to be King” or the easy and clear instrumentation of “To Find a Friend”. In fact, the whole CD was so long and seemed to lose a little steam at the midway point, only to shock me by having one great song after another fly through till the end. They seemed like songs he could have written in five minutes, and who knows - maybe he did - but they were great and he really appeared to me to have hit his stride. And it truly seemed like I was the only one in my group of friends to know.
Now, of course it turns out EVERYBODY knew. But I think this type of personal connection is just the way one absorbs a great song, or book, or film. And I’ve since discovered some of my assumptions were not spot-on. He DID care about success. His next album, the soundtrack to “She’s The One” which contains the great songs “Walls” and “California”, was not wildly popular, and at the time I thought he was intentionally under-promoting it, but it turns out this perceived failure helped throw his life for a time in turmoil. And life being the way it is, not everyone - not even me - had a chance to listen to the well-received album documenting that time, “Echo”. Or his two Mudcrutch reunion CDs. Or even the Heartbreaker’s most recent album, “Hypnotic Eye”. I envy those who remained faithful enough to give them the listen I’m sure they deserved. Those fans must have felt like I did while listening to “Wildflowers”; that they were lucky enough to be among the small few destined to take in these great songs.
I’ll definitely make the time to listen to them now. And watch the documentary. And read the definitive biography written by Warren Zanes, which was released almost exactly two years ago to this day.
To me, some of his influence can easily be seen in my own songs, even though I didn’t realize this as they were being written. “Like I Love You”, for example. One thing always leads to another, and it’s impossible to know exactly where one’s inspiration comes from, but everything in this universe appears somehow connected. The reason why I’ve hidden all my songs on various cartoon CD covers on this website is because I realize there is far too much material for any one person to really take in. If I haven’t been able to hear every Tom Petty song, or Bob Dylan song, even now, then who might have the time to get into mine? For me, though, maybe it WILL be that single listener, hearing a single, random song that inspires some kind of recognition. Who knows. I’ve written them; I might as well continue to share. I think Tom Petty would encourage me. I’m imagining him smiling over my shoulder right now.
Incidentally, some of the songs I’ve written have come from dreams, and an unfinished one is from a dream I had where I was backing up Norah Jones on guitar with Tom Petty playing bass. I have NO IDEA where that combination came from, and didn’t even find out until recently that Tom Petty actually played bass for his first band. And now I’ve just read that Norah Jones is the first artist to sign up for a Tom Petty musical memorial being organized. I wasn’t even aware they knew each other socially back when we were all jamming together. So, well - the song is called “Vampire” and I’m sure I’ll find a way to fill in the missing parts soon.
Thank you, Tom Petty. RIP.