Tuesday, October 3, 2017

R.I.P. Tom Petty

Farewell to Tom Petty, who died earlier today after suffering cardiac arrest at his Los Angeles home. I wasn’t his greatest fan, and confess I possess only one solitary compilation album of his work, but as with a lot of casual Petty fans, the stuff I did like, I really loved.

In the late Eighties and Nineties, a lot of his music tended to pass me by, despite his omnipresence on FM and rock radio across the globe. I mean, I heard it all, but dismissed a lot of it on account of the overkill factor ... it was mainstream, it was everywhere, and my enjoyment of it soon reached saturation point.

But none of that was his fault, and that level of exposure merely illustrates his widespread popularity. I have close friends who swear by his music, and they're devastated by his passing.

His music certainly ticked a lot of boxes – from power-pop to “new wave” to Americana to psychedelia to hard-edged balls-out blues-based rockn’roll. And of course there was all of the rather more straightforward commercial pop music those radio executives and playlist programmers loved so much. And it's fair to say he was one of the best American lyricists of his generation.

I recall as a young fella, one morning before school, it would have to have been 1980, playing ‘Refugee’ at full blast on the family “stereo” in the lounge, when my very strict non-pop-loving disciplinarian father returned home (having previously left for work) to surprise me, discovering me in full mock rock-god pose …

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some. Who knows maybe you were kidnapped tied up, taken away and held for ransom. Honey, it don't make no difference to me, baby, everybody has to fight to be free …”

When, boom! ... “turn that bloody shite off, and get yourself to school” …

For some reason, the sheer naked horror of that parental smackdown moment has stayed with me, and more than anything, Tom Petty came to represent rebellion in my world. That sense of rebellion was cemented a few years later when my transport (from Palmerston North to Wellington) for his Athletic Park gig in 1986 was provided courtesy of a friend – and a fellow gig attendee – driving a car he’d just stolen. Which felt just a touch more rebellious (and stupid).

I say it was Petty’s gig, but it wasn’t. It was actually Bob Dylan’s, with Petty offering support, and whilst details are now quite hazy, I’ve always punted the line that Dylan was terrible that night and completely overshadowed by Petty. Even if I can’t really recall the precise details of the concert, that was my perception. And I don’t really doubt it, Petty was positively flying as an artist in the mid-Eighties, while Dylan’s career was at perhaps its lowest ebb ever.

‘Refugee’ has subsequently gone on to become one of the Tom Petty tunes I love most of all, along with its album-mate ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ (those keyboards!), and the sublime ‘Mary Jane's Last Dance’ … clip below.

R.I.P. Tom Petty (1950 – 2017).

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