Tom

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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.

Somewhere.

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 … 

 

20 thoughts on “Tom

  1. Oh, yes indeed. Hearts, holes.

    My real introduction to Tom was that wonderful Winsor McCay-like video for “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Caught my eye and my ear.

    Only saw him live once, just a few years ago in Oakland. Too early in the tour to have shaken out all the bugs, but it didn’t matter. Had a blast.

    Wish I had that shirt, because, yeah, that sums it up. Play your own guitar. Make a difference.

    Amen, Tom, amen.

    • I have a seen a lot of bands out on their 20- and 30- and 40-year tours and Tom is the only one who never ever seemed to “phone it in.” I always appreciated that.

      “sell your computer. buy a guitar” … was so inspiring to me. Except, I’ve swung slowly back around to my old work of late. But, as Tom would agree, I’m sure: there’s nothing wrong with having more than one guitar to play.

      • And basses, amplifiers and drums,
        Accordions and mandolins and things that sometimes hum,
        Cymbals and harmonicas, capos by the score,
        And lots of things in boxes laying all around the floor

        “Cool, Dry Place” (slightly misquoted) from Traveling Wilburys, vol. 3

        Perhaps exaggerated for effect, but I gather it was somewhat autobiographical.

        Make your own music, no matter how many darn guitars you need.

  2. Thank you for the message and the American Girl video. I have been a Texas fan of the Orioles for all of my life, and have seen them play at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards, but never was blessed to see Tom Petty play live. One of my regrets to have not seen him and his band.

    • Several years ago, REM, my other very favorite band, was out on tour and came within 2-1/2 hours of us. But, it was a busy time and I thought, “Oh, I’ve seen them a bunch, I can’t make this work. I’ll just catch them next time.” Then they broke up. I promised myself that I wouldn’t put those sorts of things off ever again.

  3. Last night, as I laid in bed battling a flu bug, “Free Falling” kept running through my head. This is how ingrained those TP songs are in my brain. Even in a state of feverish delirium he’s there.

  4. Beautiful tribute. I don’t get when people say, “I’m just not a music person.” Music is about as essential to my daily functioning as is the air I breathe. I understand that feeling of connectedness with an artist and his/her music, and I think your piece today is a wonderful expression of that connection you felt with Tom Petty. I gasped when I read the news (the first reports which ended up being inaccurate), and shed a tear when his loss was known to be real. He gave us so many good songs, and for that I’m grateful.

    • Thank you. I love that confederate flag story and I had dug it up again not too long ago because I live in a place where a lot of people fly that flag proudly out on their porches and on the back windows of their trucks. I just thought, “Well, they won’t listen to me, but maybe they’ll listen to Tom.” I wish I could tell you that Tom’s story made a difference … it didn’t. Yet. But, I won’t back down.

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