During 2016 and well into 2017 we’ve watched many artists and musicians leave the world. Epic storytellers, trendsetters, and style makers who taught us all how to be a little cooler and a lot more open-minded: Prince, David Bowie, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Sam Shephard, Harry Dean Stanton, and Adam West, top the much-too-long list of losses. Each time, I’ve watched my news feed light up with tributes. I’ve listened to friends reminisce about defining moments that made this musician or artist one of their favorites. I’ve had empathy. But I’ve never related to the sensation that I lost something personal to me. I’ve never felt like I’d lost a friend…except for this one time.
This time, it was Tom Petty who died.
As I write this, it’s been 123 days since Tom Petty died.
I can’t get my thoughts clear about it.
I haven’t cried. I haven’t faced it directly.
I’ve listened to a Tom Petty song every day since I can remember listening to songs. I can’t tell you when he showed up in my life because he’s always been there. His career preceded my birth, and he helped me grow up. He’s always been there for me: a consistent and supportive guide.
I won’t regale you with tales of specific moments that one of his songs, or concerts, helped me out. It’s a cliché. It’s hard to explain how a person you’ve never actually met can be a friend and confidante. I see how ridiculous that sounds as I write it. But the person that the world knew as the rock star Tom Petty…well, that guy, I think, was a solid foundation for many people. Because of his capacity for creating universal and life-affirming lyrics, and his expert delivery of good old rock and roll songs, he aided in the positive transformation of many. This is the magic of music and Mr. Tom was a profound channel.
It’s hard to explain how I feel now.
Except for this one time, I can usually verbalize my internal storms.
Two days ago a friend shared a video with me of one of my favorite bands covering “Wreck Me.” It was a perfect tribute. I felt the elation that someone thought to tape the moment, the pure love I have for both the band playing it and the original song and the recognition that this is as close as I’ll ever be again to Tom Petty’s original spark. That even though we’ll always have the 40+ years of music he left us, it doesn’t sound the same now. Because without him here, our continuum has changed. And even though he always told me otherwise, nothing is actually alright anymore.
“Good night, baby
sleep tight my love
may God watch over you from above
Tomorrow I’m working
what will I do
I’d be lost and lonely if not for you
So close your eyes
We’re alright for now”