Tom Petty was always there


This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs

I can’t remember the first Tom Petty song I ever heard. I have no big revelation, no singular moment that sticks out as the moment I discovered Tom Petty. That’s because Tom Petty was always there.

He was at the local pool where I spent every long summer afternoon as a kid. The radio was never not tuned to the classic rock station and it seemed like they had some rule that a Petty track had to play at least once an hour.

He was there on VH1 every morning while I got ready for school. Those were the days when my parents deemed MTV too racy for my eyes, but the “adult contemporary” that circulated on VH1 was just fine. Still half asleep, 7 years old, maybe 8. Sometimes it was “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on the classics hour, “Swingin’” when it switched to the top 20 countdown.

He was there on every single mix cd blasted in my mom’s car, my dad’s car, my car as I learned how to drive. He was the soundtrack for my friends and I every time we tried to escape the boredom of our small suburban town by going on endless cruises. He was the ridiculous dance to “Don’t Do Me Like That” my youngest sister and I coordinated in bits and pieces any time we sat in traffic. Both my sisters scoffed and rolled their eyes at everything else I played; it was too old, too obscure. They wanted One Direction and Miley Cyrus and whatever else was cool on the radio that I was blissfully unaware of. But somehow Petty was always accepted without complaints.

I have so many memories tied up in Tom Petty, yes. That’s true for any artist or band that I love. But what I’ve realized over the past week, what I keep thinking about, is that I honestly thought those memories were still being made.

Tom Petty was always there because Tom Petty never left.

The old bands I’ve loved my whole life have largely been, sadly, just that: old bands. I was born in 1991. Led Zeppelin had been long done by that time; Talking Heads split shortly after then. Fleetwood Mac made one album of new material when I was 12 and then that was it. Their music has all been consumed from a slightly removed perspective, forever preserved on vinyl, but never to evolve any further.

But Tom Petty persisted. He just didn’t stop. He never split from the Heartbreakers when he achieved solo success. He resisted the changing musical landscape, refused to let streaming or the industry-wide decline in album sales persuade him to just quit making albums in favor of becoming another legacy act on an endless cycle of greatest hits tours. No, I could always count on something brand new from him to come out every few years. I could eagerly go to the mall and buy the Elizabethtown soundtrack solely for the new Tom Petty song that would be on it. I could buy a Heartbreakers album — a new one, not a reissue — on vinyl and feel the satisfaction of being able to hold it in my hands and anticipate going home, putting it on my turntable, and lying on the floor and letting the music seep into my pores. Times changed, but Tom Petty didn’t.

He was so special to me for so many reasons. His character was something I aspired to: humble, beyond the definition of loyal, kind, always looking out for the underdogs. He seemed effortlessly cool, but still like he held onto a bit of that scrappy kid from Florida.

His music covered me in so many different ways. Sometimes it was a leather jacket when I needed to feel tough and defiant. But sometimes it was a blanket when I needed comfort, when all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and hide from the world.

His songs were magic. They just were. How else can you explain a 10-year-old girl, a 16-year-old girl, and 26-year-old girl not only falling in love with, but finding identity within lyrics written by a young man, a middle aged man, an old man, ones that were often deeply personal? On paper it doesn’t make sense, but I did. I do. I can see a bit of myself in almost all of his songs: The American Girl raised on promises. The jilted narrator of “You Got Lucky.” The resilient punks of “Refugee” and “I Won’t Back Down.” That wandering person still figuring out life, still learning to fly.

Between the Heartbreakers, his solo work, and Mudcrutch, Tom Petty made 10 new albums in my lifetime. Ten. He was a constant. Every couple of years, there was something new, and it seemed like it was never going to stop. I was always a little angry at my parents for not taking me to one of his concerts as a kid, a little angry at myself for never getting around to seeing him live until after I was out of college. It was such an amazing experience: hair-on-my-arms-raising and tears-in-my-eyes-forming. My face hurt from smiling so big and my voice was hoarse from singing along so loudly. How many of these nights had I missed out on? Plenty, but I felt secure in my self-assurance that there would be plenty more to make up for lost time.

I guess what I am trying to say, as I continue to process why this has hit me so hard, why this all feels like a tremendous gut punch, is that I wasn’t ready. That I’m not ready. Just barely two months ago, I was standing in the second row at Forest Hills Stadium (another reason to love him, in that it cost what a floor seat should cost and not an entire paycheck), shouting out the “Hey!“s in “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” clutching my heart during “Crawling Back to You,” crying to “Learning to Fly,” laughing at his knowing grin as the audience sang “Let’s get to the point / Let’s roll another joint” extra loud during “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” clouds of smoke hanging low in the air. I still have a fresh scar on my right leg from not even a month before that, when I cut myself climbing over folding metal chairs at the Prudential Center to get to the pit for the encore. I didn’t even register the pain until after; I was euphorically singing along to “Refugee.”

He was just right there and I was just right there, marveling at how he somehow oozed cool guy and dork dad and chill bro all at the same time. Not once did I think it would be the last time. Nothing about it felt like the last time. Even thinking back now, combing my memory, rewatching the few videos I took, it doesn’t seem real. It seems so illogical it hurts. He wasn’t supposed to leave us like this, and not right now. He was okay. He was okay. He was okay.

Until he wasn’t.

The world feels a little darker. It feels a little more unjust. A little more cruel. But it also feels a little bit more full of love, paradoxical as that sounds. In the wake of Tom’s untimely death, countless tributes and remembrances have poured out from all corners of society. He was loved by everyone, from your Bernie bro hippie friend to your conservative uncle, your boomer parents and your college-aged sisters. We seem to have been reminded, in this ugly time, of goodness that still exists.

If I’ve reached any conclusions over the past week of thinking, it’s these few: that unifying power of music will continue to live on if we want it to. The joy and the comfort that we get from it doesn’t have to go away, it’s just different. But life is short and unpredictable. Don’t take any of it for granted. Buy that ticket. See that show. Remember why you love music in the first place.

my dudes: we talked dad rock on this week’s podcast and it is everything

Episode 10 of the ’77 Music Club podcast just dropped, and you are in for a banger:

Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, classic American rock icons, they were just five kids from Gainesville, Florida who had driven cross country to Los Angeles with $200 and hopes of landing a record deal for their southern rock group Mudcrutch.

Their ascent would be a slow one; the group signed with Shelter Records in 1974 and released a single, only to be dropped from the label. The band broke up. The band got back together and found themselves with a new opportunity to release an album — this time with a better name: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Released in 1976, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut is an amalgamation of styles and influences. It travels from classic blues to swampy country to classic ‘50s rock in songs that are abruptly short and full of anxious, pulsing rhythms that weren’t too deviant from the emerging punk scene. It’s no wonder people didn’t know what to do with them or how to classify them when the album was released.

Though the album contains songs that are now staples of American pop culture, ingrained in our collective consciousness — songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown” — it would be a few years before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cemented their status as household name rock stars — but it’s a status they’ve held onto.

In this episode, we discuss the variety of musical influences on early Heartbreakers work, dive into Tom Petty’s sparse songwriting style, and talk about why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ enduring, four decade long careers truly inspire us.

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Year in Review

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

So, I guess this is the time of year where I’m supposed to start reminiscing. I guess this is the new year. I guess everybody’s doing it, so that means I should, too. Isn’t that how it works?

I’ve never really felt like the new year started on January 1st. The dead of winter, when everything is bare and gray and it gets dark at 4 o’clock and you’re sad because the holidays are over and there’s just a long stretch of cold and nothingness to look forward to? That’s how we’re going to restart?

To me, the new year still begins in the fall, in September when the air starts to get crisp. The time of year when it’s not quite too cold for shorts, but you start getting goosebumps. That time of year when there’s still, literally, a new leaf to turn over. Sometimes I associate the start of the new year with my birthday — even though I hate it — because it’s maybe not the start of a new year, but the start of my new year.

But the Gregorian calendar doesn’t give a damn what I think, and the year is going to change in a little more than 48 hours. I don’t remember making any resolutions on January 1st this year. I don’t really have any planned for next. I don’t think you should limit yourself to one day of the whole year to make a decision to change something in your life. Do what feels right, when it feels right. Do what makes you happy.

But getting back to the reminiscing. I put it off until the last minute, becausethat’s what I always do I thought maybe I hadn’t done much in the past year, but I was wrong. I’m still not the person I want to be (what’s new?), but I think I got a little closer this year.

I made friends and I lost friends. Each one of them has been in my life for a specific reason, however brief or long it may be. I fought with some of them, but they stayed and still loved me, even when I said intentionally hurtful things. You really do get two families — the one you are born with and the one you choose. I think I made the right choices.

I wrote a lot and then I stopped writing as often. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was tired. I was so tired. I was living somewhere that made me hate New York. I was working too much — which isn’t a problem if you love what you do, but I had grown to loathe it. The misery and hate and pessimism out of my pores and stained everything I touched. The words stopped coming as easily. Sometimes they weren’t very buoyant, but they were always true.

I learned to live a little. There were nights I stayed out too late or drank a little too much or spent too much money. There were workouts I skipped and pieces I never wrote and chores I didn’t get done. But I learned, after years of denying myself, that maybe having fun isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that being productive 24/7 doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you a burnout, sooner or later. I learned that it’s okay to relax. It’s okay to sometimes act your age.

At Christmas, my parents sat me down and told me that I was not allowed to go to any of Fleetwood Mac’s second leg shows, tempting as it was. I needed to be “fiscally responsible.” I solemnly agreed. Three weeks later, I decided life was too short, my credit card limit too high, and my future chances like this too few. I decided that I was an adult, right, so I could make my own decisions. Was it irresponsible? Absolutely. Was it fun? Was it worth it? Yes and yes.

Favorite thing I wrote: On New York

Oops. I did it again. It was emotional. Also, the first time people started recognizing me in public for my writing, and professing their love for it. Which was weird. Awesome, but weird.

Favorite things I wrote: Rock On, Gold Dust Woman | Lessons From the Queens of Comedy

Oh yeah, that time I went on a road trip to VIRGINIA with Krissy and Cathy to see Fleetwood Mac. AGAIN. That time we drove there and back in one night, got home at 6:30 a.m. and went to work at 9. Sometimes, you have to let yourself go on adventures.

Favorite thing I wrote: Long Distance Winner (on running)

I remember very little about April. Which goes to show that things that probably matter a lot to you right now may be completely forgotten in a few months.

Favorite thing I wrote: How to Handle Hate Mail

I met Carly (strange, I know, because I think we’ve secretly known each other our whole lives) and the summer of infinite possibilities began. Carly taught me, among many things, to stop making excuses for why I couldn’t do things and to start saying yes more.

I turned 24, kicking and screaming. Did I still look at everyone around me doing more than me and feel sorry for myself and insecure? Yes. (I still do that and I don’t know if I will ever grow out of it.) But did I start to think that maybe I had done a decent amount to be proud of already? Yeah.

Favorite things I wrote: Happy Birthday, Stevie Nicks: Our Rock and Roll Fairy Godmother | Oh, I Don’t Know (on my birthday)

Noel and I were reunited after six months apart. We hadn’t gone that long without seeing each other, until now. That was the last time I saw her for real. Sure, through social media, texting, and FaceTime, we are practically inseparable 24 hours a day. But long distance friendships are hard. They really suck. Nothing compares to being with someone in real life.

Bonnaroo was sweaty and exhausting and amazing. I saw Robert Plant and did not, as I had worried, have a heart attack. It was an experience, one I can’t wait to have again. But the fact that I got to spend a whole week with my best friendsister was maybe an even better experience.

Favorite thing I wrote: Betrayal (on Joni Mitchell)

I quit something for the first time in my life. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to quit anything. It didn’t matter if I got a crummy chorus part in the play or if the basketball coach was playing favorites. You signed up for this. You don’t have to do it again, but you made a commitment for now, my parents drilled into me. And that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life since then: I make a commitment and I stick to it, for better or worse, because quitting is unacceptable.

Except that it’s not. It’s okay to quit things if that’s what makes you happy. I left my lease early — it wasn’t anything major like walking out on a job. There were no arguments, no bad roommates, no drama. I didn’t leave people hanging — someone else took my spot. I just realized that location matters for some people, that it matters for me. Where I was living wasn’t working. So I moved closer to work and closer to my stomping grounds. Life instantly got easier and I didn’t get angry on the subway anymore, because the A doesn’t have anywhere near the delays as the N or the Q.

It’s okay to quit things in order to be happy. Stop equating quitting with failing. Stop worrying about what other people will think about you. Fuck the haters. Seriously. People judging you for doing you have no place in your life. Do not set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

Favorite things I wrote: New Beginnings (technically June, but it’s about my July move soooo) | Vanessa Carlton’s Blue Pool EP Subtlely Stuns

The summer of infinite possibilities was coming to an end and I felt like I hadn’t gotten anywhere. I lost count of how many dream jobs I applied for. Writing wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I started to feel bitter and defeated.

But people notice you even when you think they don’t. I got offered a piece with Quartz because a former college classmate and colleague of mine thought, from what I posted and shared on social media, that I was the right person to do it. I think it turned out pretty well.

Favorite things I wrote: Taylor Swift’s fight against Big Music doesn’t make her a champion of the creative class (the Quartz piece) | Houseboats

I remembered how to have fun. I saw Emmylou Harris. I saw Robert Plant again and realized how fucking lucky I am. There’s a lot that I want and don’t have, but I do have a lot. I saw so many of my favorite aging rock stars and heroes — some multiple times — in the past year, and not many people have those same opportunities.

Somehow I was confident enough to hold my own with Henry Diltz, Pattie Boyd, and a slew of real grown-ups. And I learned a lot from them, but I also learned to trust myself and my abilities more.

Favorite thing I wrote: On Henry Diltz and Capturing Memories

I finally got a new job, one that I didn’t even apply for, one that I love. People will remember you and will recommend you for things they think you are capable of. Impressions matter. Work ethic matters. Staying in touch matters.

People still don’t like it when you write about them! But writers are always going to be writing about other people. As Anne Lamott says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

The most you can do is be truthful and know that you never do anything with a mean spirit. After that, another person’s feelings are out of your hands.

Favorite thing I wrote: The Funemployment Chronicles

There have been few things as exhilarating in my life as staying up all night on the rooftop of Le Bain with my sister on her birthday. There’s something about Manhattan rooftops that make me feel alive.

I also ate really good chicken fingers at a diner that morning at 4:30 a.m., and no, Carly, I will not forget them.

Favorite thing I wrote: On Comparison

I randomly got to meet Vanessa Carlton and it was surreal, not just to meet an artist you admire and respect, but to meet someone whose work you really grew up alongside. I met Warren Zanes, who wrote my favorite book of the year, not just because it was plain good, but because he writes about Tom Petty with the admiration and feeling that I write about Stevie Nicks. And I think that’s pretty rad. These two writers got me inspired again.

(I also lost my chill a little over Star Wars. #sorrynotsorry)

Favorite thing I wrote: this.