Like many other fans, I was blindsided by Tom Petty's death. I'd recently bought tickets for his show in Seattle, then discovered they conflicted with eclipse-viewing in Idaho, and sold them to a fan on Craigslist. I remember consoling myself with the fact that Petty was only 66. After all, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert when he was 78. More fool I.
The macabre "is he or isn't he dead" news, in the wake of the massacre in Las Vegas, unmoored me, and I found myself incapable of concentrating on work. I finally quit searching the news, turned up the stereo, and sought solace in his music. It sent me back to the cracked green seat of a schoolbus, driven by gruff Mavis with her salt-and-pepper crewcut, top-40 on the radio, crawling down the dark country roads to school. It sent me to my bedroom, the "French Provincial" furniture, the pink and blue "double wedding ring" Holly Hobbie quilt, me beneath, holding Dad's weather radio to my cheek, listening to rock-and-roll at a mere whisper while craning for steps in the hallway. Terrified of getting caught. It sent me back to my initial, loop-de-loop years out of the church, harmonizing with "wordly" friends to mix tapes, cruising in a car called The Boat (for its porthole-like rear windows and a suspension that gave a 10-degree list on curves). It sent me back to campus, exhausted from waitressing, climbing step by step the endless staircases, punching the buttons of my blue Walkman, talking myself out of skipping class when all I wanted was to lie back in the quad under the cherry trees and float away.
I understand why music was/is not allowed in the church. It has a power like no other to speak directly to our emotions, to comfort and encourage, energize, and activate. Especially the music we experience when we're growing into our adult selves, as it becomes an inextricable part of us, capable even at the remove of decades to call up the tumult of adolescence: the longing, loneliness, joy, and confusion. Listening to Petty now, I can see that -- at a time when I felt understood by no one -- I felt understood. He suggested that heartbreak was survivable, freedom possible. Dangerous stuff. In his last interview, Petty said his music was almost like religion -- that it was "about moving people, and changing the world."
Done and done, sir. Much gratitude. *** You belong among the wildflowers You belong in a boat out at sea You belong with your love on your arm You belong somewhere you feel free (From Wildflowers) Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon Honey, it don't make no difference to me baby Everybody has to fight to be free (From Refugee) Across ancient bridges, Through a town with no name. Across painted hills, That no rich man came claim. Run the wild mustangs, That nothing can tame. On your first flash of freedom.