And I showed you stars you never could see
I remember where I was, exactly where I was, the moment I first heard Tom Petty.
There are reasons why a random memory like this decades-old one sticks and others do not and it has to do with axons and neurons and blood vessels and synapses in the brain all just popping open at the right moment, sweeping up the memory, and storing it.
Don’t you hear the rock ‘n’ roll playin’ on the radio?
It sounds so right
It was 1977. It was morning. I was on a school bus.
I can tell you where I was sitting … on the left side, probably over the wheel well, because that’s where I always sat.
The driver had rigged up a radio with a speaker, his primitive way of piping down the student savages that he carted back and forth everyday down miles of unkept gravel roads on the longest bus route in the county.
It was always tuned to KFYR.
The song was “Breakdown.”
And, my still half-asleep ears perked up in a “What’s this?” kind of way. It jangled. I liked any music that jangled. I still do. And, I really liked this.
Between classes that morning, I was walking down the hallway and my best friend Jana was walking the other way. She handed me a note.
That’s what we did. We wrote notes on scraps of paper and passed them in the hallways. Like texting.
And, in this particular note she wrote … and I’m paraphrasing a bit, because my memory might be strong but it’s not all crazy-weird perfect. She wrote this: “Did you hear that song by Herbie and the Heartbeats????????????” (There may have been more ????????? I’m not sure of that.) She had heard the song on the radio, too.
I remember this, because for many days “Herbie and the Heartbeats” were our favorite band. It took a few days to discover that they really were called Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
I wouldn’t share this with you, except that in the 40 years since that moment, Tom Petty has been this thread that has connected my days and my memories and me.
And, now he’s not here to do that any more.
And, there’s this little hole in my heart, where Tom Petty’s supposed to be.
She couldn’t help thinkin’
That there was a little more to life somewhere else
A couple years later, just graduated from high school, I spent my summer nights at the town drive-in. Every night that summer … every single night … whoever was in charge of the hot dogs and popcorn and changing the movie reels, whoever that was, played Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, before the first movie and between the double features.
Damn The Torpedoes, side one. Damn The Torpedoes, side two. Every single night.
I may have missed a couple nights at the drive-in that summer, but I’m pretty sure Damn The Torpedoes didn’t. Why do I remember this? Because long about July even I started thinking, “You seriously don’t have any other record in there that you can play?” (And, quite honestly, maybe it was the only record they had.)
There goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey
In 1981, MCA records, looking to increase its profits, planned to raise the price of Tom Petty’s new album, the soon-to-be-released Hard Promises, by $1 – from $8.98 to $9.98.
“They couldn’t see that raising the album’s price wouldn’t be fair,” Petty said. He fought his label and threatened to rename his record, The $8.98 Album.
It was a huge deal. An artist was fighting for us.
(You can’t stand MCA up at the gates of hell … because they backed down.)
I have a drawer filled with these things.
After all, it was a great big world
In 2001, I left my longtime job in Washington DC for something entirely new – becoming a massage therapist and Yoga instructor. There was some rumbling about this at the time, especially from mentors and those who had guided my career. They saw this change as a step backwards.
On my last day, I wore this Tom Petty tee-shirt to work.
I still have it.
And, at my going away party that afternoon, I tried to explain that it was time for me to try a new guitar.
Tom could do that to people, not just me.
He could say something inspiring in a song or an interview or on a tee-shirt and you’d believe him. He didn’t seem like the type who would lie to you. He seemed like someone who might sit on your porch, stare off into the field in a moment of thought, take a sip of his beer, and say, “You know, that sounds like a good idea. You should go do that.”
I’ve got a few of my own fault lines
Running under my life
Tom Petty had his demons and that was alright, too. He once punched a wall in anger and broke his hand. It made him human.
He made mistakes. He ’fessed up. Like the time in the ’80s he decided it wasn’t right to fly the Confederate flag onstage, so he stopped.
I keep stuff.
The people he sang about seemed so much like me … and you. Us. They seemed like us.
Baby even the losers
Get lucky sometimes
I saw Tom Petty live for the first time in the mid-80s. ’85 I think, but I’m a bit bit hazy on the year.
More Kept Stuff.
And, nine or 10 or 11 times after that. I missed a few tours here and there.
Somewhere in this house is a box with every ticket stub.
As with many couples, I suppose, who have differing musical tastes, Tom Petty was the one thing Editor/Not-Yet-Husband and I could agree on. We agree on a lot, but I like to think that Tom was one of those first simpatico moments.
We last saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in July.
If you remember your Bloggesses’ posts you might recall that I was sick in July and I was sick that day of the concert.
I look ghostly pale in the one photo taken of me that day (one that you will never, ever, ever see) and was running a fever. But a friend of ours works for Tom and gave us crew passes and no 102 fever (which was really more like a 100-degree fever, but I tend to exaggerate feverishness) would stop me from that.
On the stage, thisclose
I stood on the stage, right where, more or less, Tom would stand that night and when no one was looking, I quickly and softly touched one of Tom’s many guitars that were packed carefully in a huge, well-padded travel case that opened like a giant book.
(Do not ask me which one I touched, I do not know. I follow the rules most of the time and touching Tom’s guitars was definitely rule-breakedness. I brushed the neck of one guitar so softly and so quickly that there is no memory beyond that, I probably didn’t even leave a print).
I’d like to move on sure and easy
Like a cat creeps through the grass
This is Little Tom Petty.
Two years ago he came to live with us and we named him after Tom. It seemed like the right thing to do. (To be honest, it was Editor/Husband’s idea).
Sundowns are golden
Then fade away
Tom Petty was born on October 20.
So was I. (Though vanity requires me to add that my birthday came 11 years later.)
I always thought it was pretty cool that Tom and I had the same birthday.
He died this week. On October 2.
Tom Petty and his music knitted my life together for decades.
What am I going to do now?
Baltimore set list, July 23, 2017
That encore …