Well I know what's right,
I got just one life,
In a world that keeps on pushing me around,
But I'll stand my ground.
The first time I listened to "Won't Back Down" and it registered completely, I was a freshman in high school. Tom Petty's lyrics suddenly made sense. Standing your ground, being yourself, and refusing to give in to other's demands isn't the kind of advice you usually get from a musician, but great music can influence. That's what Petty's music did often: he influenced a person how to stay true to themselves and treat others.
Petty's rock n' roll catalog was easy to listen to and versatile, fitting for a summer drive at night with the windows down and the feet up on the dash-or a winter singalong around a fire. I listened to Petty with my dad as a kid often, and as I got older, I got the hang of the tunes. You know the feeling when you are young and dad slips on the Fleetwood Mac, and you're inclined to roll your eyes and drift away. Well, I was the opposite. Instead, I stayed put and learned something.
When my dad played Steely Dan, I tried to understand how a man could play the guitar like that with only two hands. When Led Zeppelin came on, I air-pounded the drums like a Bonham with fiery vengeance. When The Who arrived, I made a fool out of myself trying to impersonate Pete Townsend.
When Petty came on, I just smiled. There's a unique pleasure in simple-minded rock tunes. Petty didn't try to preach to your like Bruce Springsteen or Bono; he simply wanted to rock for as long as he could. And Petty did, playing September 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, wrapping up what was set to be his band's final big tour. It would be the last time he'd step off a stage.
At the age of 66, after a sudden heart attack put Petty on life support and multiple reports called his death too fast, Petty's manager finally confirmed that the legend had passed right before eleven o'clock last night. A fitting finale for a man who really wouldn't back down.
"Runnin' Down a Dream" was my favorite Petty tune, because I loved the guitar solo at the end. Multiple musicians slicing away at their instruments as the close of the song was near. You could play that song at any time of any day and slowly hum the lyrics, "Runnin down a dream, that would never come to me, working on a mystery."
For my money, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers put on the best Super Bowl halftime show of my lifetime. Why? They took the stage and played. No fuss, no grandeur, just rock. Their version of "Runnin' Down A Dream" was the best, the band stretching out the song just enough to electrify the audience. If you weren't a fan of the band before that night, they made you one. They cut out the distractions with their music and just played the songs. You could call Tom Petty and his music old school. A forgotten thing among today's studio enabled music.
I'll be playing Petty all week, putting it on my son to listen to as we drive around South City. Like my dad did with me when I was Vinny's age, I will drop little tidbits about songs as they play, such as Last Dance with Mary Jane being my wife's favorite.
That's the kind of music Petty created, a group of albums that defined America at its best and even when it was taking a knee. A cheerful yet realistic rock that asked just the right amount of questions without beating someone over the head with idealism. The right music doesn't need to rewrite the textbooks we carried in high school. It simply has to make us feel something and put the world at ease for a few minutes.
If you are hurting from the terrible tragedy in Las Vegas, put on some Petty. His music will remind you that people are good and could be again.
Tom Petty's music did that when I was 16 and still does as I drive around at the age of 35. I can easily predict that when I am listening to it at the age of 60, the meaning and feeling will still be there.
That's the greatness of good music. It lives on well past the time of its makers, influencing generations upon generations.
Thank you for true rock n' roll, Tom Petty. You don't have to back down or free fall. Just rest easy.