R.I.P. Tom Petty

R.I.P. Tom Petty
R.I.P. Tom Petty

The hallmark of a truly iconic artist is their ability to transcend boundaries with their music and resonate with people across all backgrounds and tastes. It’s somewhat easy to do that on a superficial level (take your typical flavor of the month pop star for example) but what establishes icons in our collective consciousness is their ability to create truly memorable songs that stand the test of time. And perhaps more so than any other artist, it was Tom Petty’s songs that made him a truly iconic figure in the history of rock and roll.  That’s not to say Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers didn’t have their fair share of great albums, as they certainly did. But, there was a certain heart-of-gold quality and sweeping energy in their hit songs that helped them resonate strongly with so many people. 

Tom Petty was a truly special songwriter in that he possessed a unique ability to pull the listener directly into his romanticized stories of loners, rebels, and underdogs living their lives on their own terms in search of true love and destiny (e.g., “Refugee”, “American Girl”, “Running Down a Dream”, etc).  It's no coincidence that many of his biggest hits were incredibly relatable. Petty had a unique gift for simultaneously addressing universal feelings within the human spirit, chiefly that of love and freedom, whilst making songs feel deeply personal. In a sense, they were life stories that inspired and encouraged us to embrace all of life, and do it with self-assurance and humility, trademark Petty qualities. 

And when I say freedom, I’m not talking about the hollow, mindless flag-waving variety that is pandering and jingoistic, but rather an individualistic, freewheeling ideal that opens one’s heart and imagination to the limitless possibilities life has to offer out there in “The Great Wide Open.”  Songs like “Learning to Fly” and of course “I Won’t Back Down” captured that sweeping majestic quality beautifully, and have always been equally inspiring and comforting to listen to for yours truly, as well as millions of other people around the world.

But perhaps the most predominate themes in Tom Petty’s music were that of love and heartbreak. He had the ability to write both poignant and moving love songs like “Here Comes My Girl," “The Waiting,” and the gorgeous “Wildflowers,” while at the same time cooking up some cold-as-ice, gut-wrenching breakup songs like “Breakdown” and the lighter-waving, sing-a-long classic “Free Fallin'.”  Those songs (just to name a few) carry a powerful emotional weight to them, and as mentioned prior, were all incredibly relatable to practically anyone who has ever experienced the full spectrum of emotions that goes along with most relationships. John Mellencamp called Petty "the Edward Hopper of American songwriters," and for those unfamiliar with Hopper's stark, moving, and even melancholy work, let it simply be said that Mellencamp's comparison is spot-on. 

An incredibly genuine and modest “rockstar,” and truly one of a kind, his music never failed to put a smile on my face and fill my heart. In an upside-down world full of bitterness and divisiveness, Tom Petty’s music should be cherished and remembered for its ability to tap into the very best and most universal qualities of the human spirit.  Gone but never forgotten, his impact on rock and roll cannot be overstated. He will be missed.

"Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There's not some trick involved with it. It's pure and it's real. It moves, it heals, it communicates, and does all these incredible things" - Tom Petty

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