Tom Petty has to be one of the best artists of my generation. I first came to know him and his music through Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I must have been about 13 when I first heard them play. Damn the Torpedoes was the album and my favorite song was “Refugee”. I can remember riding in the backseat of my Dad’s car, the song coming on the radio, and my sister and I simultaneously yelling to Dad to turn it up! My Dad was probably about 40 at the time and was an old fogey by me and my sister’s standards. But he loved Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as much as we did. Surprisingly, that didn’t make them uncool to us. In fact, Dad bought an eight-track tape of that album and fashioned an eight-track player that he jerry rigged into the car so we could listen to Petty and Billy Joel and The Eagles whenever we wanted. My Dad was ahead of his time, musically. Well, to my thirteen-year-old self, he was. Truth is, he knew a heck of a lot more about music and art than we ever gave him credit for, of course.
When Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers came as close to my small time as was possible, to Syracuse, to play at the Carrier Dome, my sister and I begged to go to the show. We didn’t have a lot of money and, worse, we had no idea what things cost and what a stretch it was for my Dad to buy us tickets. But he found a way, and got an extra ticket for himself. I have a feeling if we had wanted to see an inferior band, he would have found a way to tell us no, just so he wouldn’t have to endure a bad show.
Years later, when Petty joined/formed the Traveling Wilburys, my Dad was a fan of them too, as was I. This kind of surprised me, since the band also included Bob Dylan, whom Dad had never really cared for. That became something hard for my teenage and young hipster adult self to bear, since I thought Dylan was god. Never mind, though, Dad liked the Traveling Wilburys, partly because of Roy Orbison, I suspect.
When I got closer to being a real adult, Tom Petty was, thankfully, still touring. At one point, I found myself living in Denver when The Heartbreakers came to play at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. To me that is the ultimate venue for live music and Tom Petty playing there was a highlight of my existence. It was almost surreal, surrounded by the jagged cliffs and eponymous red rocks, with Petty and the Heartbreakers playing below, all my favorites. Especially “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”. The song had recently come out and was haunting and moody and multi-layered and spoke to me in a way that no other song at the time could. Not long after, Silence of the Lambs came out and Petty was memorialized in it with “American Girl’ being sung by the fated victim moments before she was abducted. I have to go watch that again, just for that scene. Love you, Tom Petty!