[Photo by: tompetty/YouTube]
Tom Petty’s death is incredibly difficult to process. Not only was he a titan who will never create again, but he also was a voice of reason in a world that’s, more often than not, unnecessarily complex.
Someone who was revered by just about every major artist you can imagine, Petty’s credits included recording with the Travelling Wilburys (with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne), Stevie Nicks and, of course, the Heartbreakers. To go into his history would require tens of thousands of words, so I recommend you watch the documentary on Netflix, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream (it’s four hours, so set some time aside and get comfortable). Instead, now is the time to celebrate him. He was one of the giant American icons that stood above all else. Everything from his personality to his music and his fight for his own freedom radiated a positive outlook that can really only be attributed to his search for the American dream (however you see to interpret that is up to you).
To some, Petty was just a name they knew through their parents; for others, he was a lifeline. He offered escapism through music that told stories most of us can only dream of. He put into words a world that painted a picture most of us will never achieve, such as “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” which is quite literally about driving cross-country in search of life and adventure, a concept everyone has undertaken (or conspired to) at least once in their lifetime.
“American Girl” is, of course, the quintessential track everyone is familiar with. It’s been featured in every aspect of popular culture, a phenomenon of its own accord. That introductory guitar sound transcends everything around it, becoming more powerful than he and his Heartbreakers could have imagined they’d be.
Petty also managed to portray love in its purest form. “Free Fallin’” encapsulates the moment you fall for someone — literally putting into words a feeling that is as striking as it is heartbreaking. Lest we forget Petty also is the person who, when an extra track was needed as a treat for his 1993 Greatest Hits, came up with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” —having a bonus track that can rise to be a classic is a move that only Petty and a few others can pull off.
He was even a pioneer in artistic control. While bands like Avenged Sevenfold are currently going through their own battles, Petty did so over 30 years ago, helping pave the way for the freedom of the creative industries. His legacy doesn’t remain cemented in music; he was one of the first music video artists, fully utilizing every aspect of the medium, pushing boundaries and just having fun with it all.
Everything Petty touched felt welcoming as if he was aiming it specifically at you. The stare of the photographs from his albums wasn’t one that came to impose, but to challenge you. It was there to get you to open your world and let him in, knowing you were going to be carried by melodies, key changes and just general triumph.
The important thing to remember when events such as these happen is that they’re never truly gone. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will live on forever when those chords ring out and give life to that hopeful American girl—just as they have everyone else for the past. So all we can do now is look to the words that have soundtracked generations, and will continue to into the future: