good morning everyone –
Tom Petty died five years ago on Sunday, October 2. For the latest track(s) of the day, I thought I would share with you all the musician whose music has meant most to me my whole life.
My favourite song is Refugee.
I grew up in a “classic rock” household. My mother listened to KOST 103.5 on the radio, your soft-rock/pop kind of tunes, which I found boring. But my dad would play Jack FM or KLOS or 100.3 The Sound – the classic rock station. My tunes.
Even as a kid, Tom Petty’s songs were recognizable to me. I knew them the second I heard ‘em. Mary Jane’s Last Dance is the first Petty tune I remember. It’s one of the first songs – ever – I remember hearing. It played while my dad was driving down Imperial Highway to drop me off at soccer practice.
His music travelled with me. One time, driving up Lemon Street, a DJ made some reference to Damn the Torpedoes. I can’t remember the context. All I remember is that the album was referenced.
Fitzie’s track of the day, part one: Mary Jane’s Last Dance, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
And Tom Petty’s music ran through my head when I had college crushes. The choruses of Even The Losers in the spring, and Free Fallin’ in those hot summer months. I played I Won’t Back Down on repeat in the weeks leading up to running the 2015 New York Marathon. And, when I moved to London, I felt as if I were living the verses to Into the Great Wide Open.
His music was everywhere in my life.
His music is the soundtrack of my life.
I remember the night he died – or the night before, really. It was October 1, 2017. My grandmother’s health was declining, I was struggling to pay rent, 100.3 The Sound was being shut down, my postgraduate thesis did not receive the mark I had worked for and I had accepted I would have to leave the United Kingdom because of an expired visa.
In all that change, in all that uncertainty and loneliness, I had at least Tom Petty’s music.
And then the first piece of news trickled in: He had suffered a heart attack and was in critical condition. And then a wave of horrid news cascaded down further and further and I plunged into a deep sadness.
Before then I had never understood why people cried when John Lennon died. That night I understood, and I cried.
I was in disbelief. Like many times before, lyrics swarmed through my head. And I kept playing the refrains:
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
That night I prayed, deeply prayed, for Tom Petty’s life to be spared. I got down on my knees, hands placed on my bed, and I prayed for death to pass Tom Petty’s door.
Fitzie’s track of the day, part three: Wildflowers, by Tom Petty
I woke up the next morning, on October 2, feeling empty. I played no music. I watched no programme on the streams. It was cloudy, gloomy. I hopped on the train and walked aimlessly around Hammersmith. My world had shattered.
In London, Tom Petty was really all I had. 100.3 The Sound went off the air a couple of weeks later. The next two months I travelled as far north in Scotland as I could. I gulped down several drinks at a pub alongside the River Thames before I received my postgraduate degree in late November. I said farewell to the friends I had made, many of them I would see for the last time.
On December 1, 2017 I said goodbye to my best mate and flew back to California.
I was lost. I didn’t really have music in my life, I had trouble finding a job. I was stuck at home with my parents. I got a temporary gig in New York.
On March 1, 2018 my grandmother passed away. I flew back home. I was assigned to select the church hymns to be played and the passages to be read during her funeral.
The night before her funeral I wept.
As her coffin was lowered into the earth, shortly before what would have been her 95th birthday, all I could hear was Tom Petty’s voice. It was a beautiful morning in Huntington Beach, California.
You belong among the wildflowers / You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm / You belong somewhere you feel free
A few months later, trapped in the radioless abyss, I finally found 88.5 FM, an independent radio station based out of Northridge, California. Two of the DJs from 100.3 were picked up to jockey there. I later learned that, when he was alive, Tom Petty was the station’s biggest supporter. One of the DJs still refers to him as their “Patron Saint”.
In July 2018 I was offered a job in Connecticut. I took it and my records, several of them Tom Petty records, with me.
Few days have passed in the four years since where I did not listen to a Tom Petty song.
Tom Petty was a champion for so many people. He took his record label to court twice. Each time he won. He fought for his fellow musicians, he fought for disc jockeys and he fought for his fans. When his group released Damn the Torpedoes, the Heartbreakers performed at the Whiskey in Los Angeles.
His songs are simple. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” is how Mike Campbell described it. It takes a great songwriter to create music so simple, yet so expansive. It’s the beauty of his music, isn’t it? The universality. He never played pretend. He was just a cool dude playing music.
Even today I grow emotional thinking about what his music means to me. When Wildflowers plays on 88.5 all I can do is stop what I’m doing, take a breath, and listen to his music. I’ve cut short one or two Zoom calls because of it.
I don’t even know which song to close this out with. There are literally dozens I wish I could share. They all mean a great deal to me.
Tom Petty is the soundtrack of my life.
Fitzie’s track of the day, part two: Refugee, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
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