So many people have written great posts or tweets about Tom Petty and their favorite Tom Petty moments. I’ve loved reading how Tom Petty moved them or was a part of their life. Thought it might feel good to share a few of my own.
I’ve never not appreciated Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ role as musical soundtrack provider and milestone marker through my adolescence to adulthood. Here are a few of my favorites moments:
MTV hit my house in 1982 and pretty much dominated my television viewing until I left for college. One of my favorite early videos was “You Got Lucky”. Looking back, it’s easy to call the sci-fi themed video’s production hokey. But if you were 11-years old and just coming off obsessions with first generation Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek reruns and Star Wars, it was a signal that these guys were simpatico with your current sense of awesomeness. Plus Tom got out of the space mobile with cowboy boots on! From that moment on Tom Petty and Mike Campbell were space cowboys from the future in my mind. I never thought of them as classic rockers. As a tribute, I am half entertaining the idea of buying old boomboxes, putting Tom Petty tapes in them and burying them in the ground so future space cowboys can stumble across them and discover Tom Petty a la the “You Got Lucky” video.
A few weeks later I went back to the Record Bar in the mall to buy Long After Dark, the album that contained “You Got Lucky” with some birthday money. With birthday level dollars, I could step up and buy whole albums instead of just singles. I had pretty much wore out the 45 by that time, so I wanted to dig in further.
I already had Queen’s Greatest Hits (w/ “Under Pressure”!) under my arm and was walking up with Long After Dark to the counter. These were big important purchases that would take most of my birthday $20, so I asked the clerk who was shelving stock if the rest of Long After Dark was as good as “You Got Lucky”. I remember her saying something like “It’s pretty good, but I would go with Hard Promises.” Without another word, she went back to the P’s, pulled Hard Promises and showed it to me. I can’t remember much else about the exchange other than I agreed to go with Hard Promises and she put Long After Dark back in the featured rack. Side A of that album is still one my favorite A-sides ever. Backing up “The Waiting” with “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” is just killer. It also began my love of record stores and the people who work in them.
I went back a few months later and got Damn the Torpedoes too. I had figured out that he did “Don’t Do Me Like That’, which I had loved as well. I never did buy Long After Dark for some reason.
The next Petty album I bought was Southern Accents which will always be important in my musical development. I almost didn’t buy it because I didn’t love the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” single or its video. What got me was the title track and the song “Rebels” which was played on KZ-106, our classic rock “hot rockin’” radio station in 80’s Chattanooga, TN. It was the first time I became aware that being “southern” was a thing you could be proud of in some way that didn’t feel completely redneck. Lots of my friends really identified with the Hank Williams, Jr. type of southern identification…huntin’, fishin’ and football. I tried that stuff but it didn’t fit me well. I realized that’s not who I was was or wanted to be. Before Southern Accents, 15 year-old me wanted to be from the U.K. or California. That’s because my heroes at that age were from one of those two places: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, etc. Those people were cool! After this album, I could point to other southerners as culturally cool too.
Like Petty, I didn’t know too much about the Civil War, being a “rebel” or what the confederate flag really meant at the time. I didn’t think it was something that even existed in “modern society”. That’s because I grew up in Chattanooga which has a lot of Civil War History. There are tons of old Civil War monuments here that have New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other northern states names on them. It was always clear to me who lost that war and who the losers were. Being a confederate just didn’t seem like something you wanted to be or celebrate. Later on, we both learned a lot about those terms and symbols and how they meant something other than just “being from the south”.
The album and its subject matter immediately started me down a path to a different kind of southern culture and a new take on southern music. One that would lead me to R.E.M., Gram Parsons, the Byrds and a whole bunch of alternative country artists that made me think differently about a southern culture that was more open to art and different ways of thinking than was offered to me before it.
I could write a whole other post about memories I have around the Full Moon Fever and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest hits albums. They were literally the soundtrack of my college years. I didn’t buy either album as they were played non-stop in my college apartments, car trips, parties and events throughout that time. I know every song and lyric by heart on both those albums, and there are literally too many memories to recount.
The next seriously meaningful Petty moment for me was buying this Wildflowers cassette in New Orleans as I drove cross country to move to California in my 1988 Hyundai Excel. It sounded like freedom and I think I listened to it 3 or 4 flips in a row before I took it out. I remember the production sounded so good! Even on my cheap Hyundai speakers, this album sounded like a road dream. Put it on the next time you are on a road trip and see what I mean. I’ve probably listen to this album at least three or four times a year since. It’s funny, some of the songs that I thought were weak at the time, I love now. For example, “Honey Bee”. Of course, Dave Grohl already knew that song slayed in 1994.
A few years after I moved to San Francisco, the Heartbreakers did a residency at the Fillmore. I didn’t live far from The Fillmore, so I would go down and try to get a ticket from a fellow fan at face value. I got to go to four shows which were amazing. Tom and the band looked like they were having a blast too. I remember thinking how cool it was to see an older cowboy-looking guy from Petaluma rocking out next to a Haight hipster on some Petty staple or choice cover and it didn’t feel weird. Petty really did cross the cultural divide with people. I also remember there were great openers as well. I saw Bo Diddley open!
Over the next 20 years, I would see a few more of their shows, one at festival. I would listen to the new albums over streaming services. Whether a show or a new album, the product was always good and was never a disappointment. As it goes in life, moments in adulthood are harder to remember, capture or reference musically than those from your formative years. But I was still a fan and there are tracks on The Last DJ and Mojo that I love.
My last Petty moment was seeing him with Mudcrutch in Boston after a Red Sox game at the House of Blues last Fall. There were no TP & the Heartbreaker staples, but the crowd still loved it. You could feel that he was doing it just for fun. Like he was still looking for that magic after all these years. And when he locked in with Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, you could still see they had “their thing”. It was great to watch.
So there you have it. These were some of my favorite moments that Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers provided a soundtrack to over the years. Thanks for everything Tom.
Wherever you are tonight, I wish you the best of everything. And I hope you found whatever you were looking for.