This week’s relentless rain hasn’t helped us face the harrowing news from Las Vegas one bit. It’s as if we’re living in a world gone mad, only unlike in the movies there doesn’t seem to be someplace safe to which we can all escape in the end.
As with the terrorist attack inside Paris’ Bataclan Theater, we are struck and stunned by by the fact that these events happen at live music events. We have no complaints about being checked for weapons when entering a venue, which we experienced as recently as last week when we went to a show at 7th Street Entry. Live music quickly returned to Paris after the November 2015 attack in that theater and other locations, and we appreciated what two two Irish performers had to say at the time.
The heavy sense of sorrow which hung drearily over this little neighborhood record shop yesterday was made all the worse by the news that Tom Petty, one of the most endearing of the elder statesmen of rock and roll, had passed away at the age of sixty-six. He was found at his home in Malibu, California in a state of cardiac arrest and was taken off life support yesterday surrounded by family and friends.
Petty was so often seen with a cigarette, and in the 90s went through rehab for a heroin addiction, all of which likely took a toll on his heart. Nothing would change the way fan feel about the Gainesville, Florida singer and songwriter who never pretended to be anything else. Fans identified with Tom Petty in a way they didn’t with other marquee names like those he joined to form the Traveling Wilburys “supergroup.”
There’s a sense of wonder and with it a sense of humor in all of his music. You can see it in the smirk on the cover of his 1976 debut LP with the Heartbreakers, and you could hear it in the silly “What’s in here?” interlude on Into the Great Wide Open fifteen years later. And let’s not forget those ridiculous “Hello CD listeners” and “Hello cassette listeners” moments which will presumably be lost now that vinyl has, as they tell us, ‘come back.’
We read an exceptional AV Club piece about Petty ages ago which we still remembered when opening our copy of his last album, Hypnotic Eye, in 2014. Writer Noel Murray, who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for the piece, posits the case that the best moment in every Tom Petty song is its first lyric. This is true for many of our favorites, especially “Rebels,” the underrated rocker which also opens the album Southern Accent in 1985. Of course, you can find a great line nearly anywhere you drop the needle on one of his albums. In the middle of his soundtrack to She’s the One in 1995 we hear Tom sing,
You think you’re so above me, you think that you’re so big
Well I saw you kick that dog when the wind blew off your wig
The soundtrack was one of the albums Petty freely admitted was a low-point in his career (along with Long After Dark and Echo) but that throwaway joke in “Zero From Outer Space” captures Petty’s humor as completely as it does his tenacity. Always an underdog, even at the height of his success, Petty was never a warrior and the snarkiest of his working class wit was always reserved for those who never knew how to handle newfound affluence — think of the opening of “Listen to Her Heart,” for instance. Or much of his debut solo album, Full Moon Fever from which came what’s being called his signature tune, “I Won’t Back Down.”
The Heartbreakers’ return-to-roots sound coincided with the appearance of bands like the Ramones, Television and the New York Dolls, but, but Petty was never a punk rocker. He did have a rebellious streak, though. His relationship with his label’s distributor became famously fractured when MCA announced it would charge a dollar more for his 1981 album than what consumers were used to paying — the bump to so-called “superstar pricing” of $9.98 inspired Petty to threaten to shitcan the record or insist it be titled $8.98. This led to a Rolling Stone cover story subtitled “One Man’s War Against High Record Prices.”
When finally released, Hard Promises featured one of Petty’s most memorable hits, “The Waiting,” and featured him standing in a record shop on the jacket. We’d love to know what record store Petty is standing in because he’s next to an overstuffed spinning 45 display very much like the one in our shop.
During the press push for Hypnotic Eye in 2014 Petty dismissed EDM and the DJ scene, as well as digital downloads. “I hate MP3s,” Petty told USA Today. “You hear exactly 5% of the record I made. The CD is not as good as it can be, but it’s 100 times better than an MP3. The good news is vinyl is coming back.”
Everyone had a sense that the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour, which had passed through the Twin Cities just a few weeks ago, was the band’s farewell. We never had the sense that Petty was going to retire, however. News of his passing has already brought regular customers into the shop to talk about their favorite songs and look at what we have left in stock. Last night while playing a board game with out kids we listened to several albums and realized we couldn’t choose a favorite, let along narrow down his songs to a list of favorites. For anyone who loved rock and roll Tom Petty was the real deal. And through his records a good friend who was always there when you needed him.
When huge success comes, things get much more serious. Suddenly you wear a lot of hats and become a grown-up.”