My heart sank when I saw Tom Petty and RIP was trending on Twitter. But my infant son was crying, so off I went. Even later, quietly talking with my wife over the little guy's snoozing head, about how much the man's music has meant to me, I hadn't really taken it in. But seeing confirmation a few minutes ago has done it: a proper gut punch; it's still a ball there as I write.
I wasn't OG Heartbreakers or anything. As far as music goes, if it wasn't on the blandest radio stations, I didn't hear it. That's my childhood writ large, when it comes to entertainment: my brother and I would get to rent a VCR on our birthday, but other than that, it was the dozen or so channels of terrestrial TV and the radio. Then, when I was 15, we got cable! Muchmusic blew my mind! And one of the many tunes that grabbed me was I Won't Back Down by Tom Petty.
And I think it was probably after Into The Great Wide Open, one birthday, my favourite uncle bought me three cassettes: Damn The Torpedoes..., Pack Up The Plantation Live!, and Southern Accents. I've gotta be honest: I wasn't thrilled. The sound was different. But I kept playin' them, out of politeness more than curiosity, to begin with. And while Free Fallin' was still king of my Walkman, Damn The Torpedoes..., in particular, started creepin' up the play count. And then I bought the whole back catalogue.
Free Fallin' and Wildflowers got the most plays over the years, I'd say. I sunk a lot of time into Playback too. But it was more than that. Tom Petty got me into Bob Dylan (I know, I know), Jeff Lynne... The Travellin' Wilburys' first album is still one of my favourites, period. I didn't keep up with catalogue, to be honest, but it was all on my wish list. Even at Petty's cheesiest, I found joy.
And there was more to come. I just keep thinking 66 is way too soon. It feels like I've been thinking that for ages: we lost my wife's dad to cancer this year. He was 66, and so excited to be a grandfather. You can't help but think about how short our time is. My 20s seem like yesterday. I know I'll be 60 in the blink of an eye. I read a quote last night about how it can help new parents to think of their life in terms of seasons. Without a doubt, the soundtrack to the season of my youth would be full of Tom Petty.