I loved Tom Petty. I’ve been a fan for most of my life. My first big introduction to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was during the halftime show of Super Bowl 53 in 2008, and I was hooked. As I got older and started to dive deeper into the catalog of artists that I had grown up with a handful of their songs, Tom Petty’s music spoke volumes to me unlike any other musician. There was a Tom Petty song for every and any occasion. One for heartbreak (“Walls”, most songs from the “Echo” album), one for excitement and happiness (“Runnin’ Down a Dream”, “You Wreck Me”, etc.) , one for discovering/wandering (“Somewhere Under Heaven”, “Free Fallin'”), and so on. Other than Bruce Springsteen, I can’t think of any other artist that had the impact on my life than Tom Petty and his music did.
I was taken aback on Monday when news had leaked (and was later revoked) around Tom Petty’s death from cardiac arrest. I think the news of Tom Petty is affecting all of us, to varying lengths. Some where like me and massive fans, and others were fans of only a handful of songs, but songs that had a profound impact on their lives. Very few artists have been able to have that impact, and Petty was one of the more unique ones. He was a rock star, but he didn’t appear to be one. He was a kid from Gainesville, Florida who wanted to create music for a living, and have the kind of freedom as an artist that others have strived to have (I recommend watching Peter Bogdanovich‘s Runnin’ Down a Dream documentary about Petty on Netflix).
This past May, I had the privilege of getting to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform live at the Frank Erwin Center here in Austin, which was ultimately the last time he would ever perform in Austin. When the tour was announced, many thought that it would be the last tour that Tom Petty would ever do (the man had been touring for 40 years, and had talked in the past about not wanting to live on the road forever), so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to get tickets. I had been kicking myself still for not having seen Tom Petty when he last came to Austin in 2012, and I wasn’t going to miss seeing him again. I went with my friend Wyatt Corder, and it was one of the best concerts I had ever been to. Not only did Petty play all his big hits, he also played a lot of songs from my favorite album of his, “Wildflowers”. It was a great evening, and one that I’ll never forget.
People will remember Tom Petty for numerous reasons. The songs, the music videos (“Into the Great Wide Open” and “Free Fallin'” stand out for me), the concerts, the memories, the albums, Petty and the Heartbreakers as a whole. I’m going to remember Tom Petty for all of those things, and then some. I got through some of the toughest times in my life by playing Tom Petty, and some of the best moments in my life have been defined by Petty songs. No other mainstream artist was able to rebel against the labels, win, and spend decades with artistic freedom that continues to be unmatched. I miss Tom Petty already, and I’m going to miss him for a very, very long time. But his music will live on forever, and it’ll be there for all of us when we need to blast “American Girl” at the end of a workday.
RIP, Tom. We here at Movie Talk are mourning your loss and we can’t begin to thank you enough for what you did for all of us.