Tom Petty performing in Houston, Texas, 2014 - Photos by Violeta Alvarez - www.violetaalvarezphotography.com
By Andra Jenkin
“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
The first album I fell in love with was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. My father was a graveyard DJ. He’d play music all hours of the day and night. By 1979 it was wall to wall punk, but in 1976 Tom Petty was favourite. He’d put the stylus to the vinyl and first there’d be the crackle, then the sound of America would come pouring out of the speakers.
I would crawl out of my cot, and come and put my ear up to the amplifier. Though I’m sure it did my hearing no good whatsoever, it made me happy and filled my soul better than any lullaby. I’ve listened to a lot of music, been to hundreds of concerts and sung in bands myself, but Tom Petty will always be the first musician I loved.
I wasn’t the only one moved to get up when Tom Petty played. He sold more than 80 million records worldwide, creating quintessentially American music that helped define an era. Supercool and oh so smooth, Petty wrote hit songs for more than forty years, chalking up such greats as American Girl, Listen to her Heart, Refugee, Don’t Do Me Like That, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Learning to Fly, Runaway Trains, Into the Great Wide Open, Free Falling and I Won’t Back Down.
Petty was everything America stood for in the age of rock and roll. He was a defiant rebel who spoke out about vanishing personal freedoms, the moral corruption in a culture that sexualises young girls and about greed in the music industry. He didn’t believe in profit before creativity and while he didn’t think it fair that people were able to steal music on the internet, he did understand it. “It’s funny how the music industry is enraged about the Internet and the way things are copied without being paid for. But you know why people steal the music? Because they can’t afford the music.”
With an outspoken temperament and a blue-collar idealism, Tom Petty always had something to say. He devoted his life to music, though he told Rolling Stone reporter Andy Greene that he didn’t want to spend his life on the road, and that the 2017 tour would be his last. At the culmination of that tour, only a week ago he and the Heartbreakers played three performances at the Hollywood Bowl.
Then October 2, 2017, Tom Petty died at age 66, after a cardiac arrest. The reports of his death at first confused and contradictory, then finally confirmed by his manager, who said he “…died peacefully at 8.40pm PT surrounded by family, his bandmates and friends.”
A giant, a rebel, musical genius and a mad hatter, Tom Petty is gone. His music lives on in the heart of Americana, in southern nights and in the heart of rock and roll.
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