By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief
At the shop in Cromwell where I get what’s left of my hair cut, Tom Petty’s passing was an immediate topic of conversation.
Kelly’s two kids live and work in the Denver area. In early December, concert dates for Tom and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour were released. Her daughter, Abby, badly wanted to see the band perform in Colorado. If you have gone the general-public route for buying tickets online for a popular act, then you know the odds of getting good seats, or any seats at all, can be 50-50 at best.
Abby was incredibly disappointed, moreso when her dad dropped this line on her: He bought two seats for the show in May at the Xfinity Center in Hartford.
Then, on Christmas Day, while she was together with her parents celebrating the holiday, Abby’s dad urged her to check her inbox. She opened the email to find two tickets for one of the Heartbreakers’ two May dates at Red Rocks.
One for her, one for her brother. Tears of rockin’ gratitude followed.
This is just a small story connecting a few people within the universe that Tom Petty created. He was a singular talent, a master songwriter, the coolest of performers and, for me, a Rushmore-esque American musical force.
The news of his death was crushing. I first saw him perform in 1991 in Kansas City on the Full Moon Fever tour. There were a few more shows in the decades to come – each awesome and easy to recall – with the final one coming in July at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens.
As I’ve come to expect at a Petty show, there were bolts of energy shooting from the stage and back to the stage from the crowd. Tom’s catalog is timeless. The songs always feel fresh. His live performances are true to the recordings, so to me, they are equally fantastic (I’m not ready to use past tense). Usually, in the days and sometimes weeks after seeing one of his concerts, I would fixate on particular songs, listening with a sharper ear as if I was hearing each for the first time.
I remember Petty limping up the stairs and onto the stage that night. He looked uncomfortable. Peter Wolf opened for Petty and the Heartbreakers on the latter half of the tour, and recently wrote in Rolling Stone that Petty’s hip was ailing and that he was in considerable pain. But once he pulled the guitar over his shoulder, spoke to fans and let the music fly, it seemed like pure pleasure for Tom – and certainly for us fans.
That Petty died less than a week after the tour’s completion really bothers me, especially knowing that he intended to pull back on working for the foreseeable future, partly because he was a doting grandfather who wanted to have time with his grandchild. He was only 66.
He spoke to the Los Angeles Times after the tour ended and just five days before his death and said, “On the back side of your 60s, most people aren’t working. This keeps us young. I think it keeps me young.
“When I see people I knew from earlier in life and I run into them now, they’re very different than me,” he added. “And they look different. I think this has kept us all thinking young and feeling young.”
Petty’s death came less than 24 hours after the mass killings in Las Vegas, and trying to digest this and then Petty’s loss was suffocating for me. Add to this the anger and unhappiness permeating the times and you’re almost left groping for a tunnel that leads to light. Music fosters happiness and spreads it among all walks of people. Music is a connector, an anti-divider.
The wonderful woman who cuts my hair attended the Patriots-Panthers game last Sunday. The friend who provided the transportation has season tickets, and I was told a Tom Petty playlist is the regular choice of music for the drive back to Connecticut. This was Sunday. Tom Petty died on Monday.
The strains of the verse “with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights” that Tom powered through with thousands of voices in a supporting role is just one of my favorite moments from his shows.
In another song, he sings about the great wide open and the skies of blue. Those are pretty good places to be and ones we can go back to whenever we choose.
One list of 10 favorite Tom Petty songs:
- Crawling Back To You
- Time To Move On
- You Don’t Know How It Feels
- I Won’t Back Down
- Yer So Bad
- Learning To Fly
- Listen To Her Heart
- The Waiting
- So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
- Don’t Come Around Here No More