*News of Tom Petty’s death has been confirmed since this story was published this morning
I am listening to Tom Petty’s voice. He is singing to a woman. He is singing to the world. He is singing to me. I have been listening to his voice since his debut album with The Heartbreakers in 1976. Now a part of my history and musical life is breaking.
Tom Petty has been reported as close to death, aged 64. Reports said he suffered a cardiac arrest at his Malibu home, and was put on life support in hospital. There are conflicting reports on the state of his life.
A singer, not breathing, a songwriter and guitarist, his hand stilled, not granted the odds to live long. Well, no one is of course, but this news is a shock to the system, simply because like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, for instance, he had been my listening companion from my late teenage years. I have parted ways with Young and Dylan over various periods of their careers (musical differences), but with Petty the chain is unbroken. I’ve never bought an album whether solo or with the Heartbreakers, listened once and thrown it away. He was the constant star in the changing orbit.
Petty is both hitmaker and rebel. He could draw characters in three and half minutes of melody and rhythm and you would know that’s all you needed to know. Diamond cuts. And pound for pound he is among the best in the industry for writing that hook or riff that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.
Bob Dylan, a fellow member of the Traveling Wilburys with Petty (and George Harrison and Jeff Lynne) told Rolling Stone: “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of light, a friend and I’ll never forget him.”
What is pouring through the window to a man clinging to life, not backing down, is the warmth, affection and respect for Petty and his music.
Petty enjoyed chart success with American Girl, I Need to Know, Refugee, The Waiting, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (a duet with Stevie Nicks), Don’t Come Around Here No More, Learning to Fly and Mary Jane’s Last Dance, to name a few.
He had contractual problems with record labels, he had a heroin problem in the ’90s, went into rehab and came out the other side. He had his first No. 1 album a few years ago with the Heartbreakers in Hypnotic Eye. He caught up with old bandmates from the early days of his career and recorded two Mudcrutch albums.
He also fell out of love with the recording industry, recording the withering acerbic album The Last DJ, and as he told Rolling Stone: “Everywhere we look, we want to make the most money possible. This is a dangerous, corrupt notion. That’s where you see the advent of programming on the radio, and radio research, all these silly things. That has made pop music what it is today. Everything – morals, truth – is all going out the window in favour of profit.”
What is pouring through the window to a man reportedly clinging to life, not backing down, is the warmth, affection and respect for Petty and his music. Paul McCartney tweets “sending love to Tom Petty and his family at this difficult time”. Cameron Crowe: “No words, just thanks.”
In 2006, Petty told Esquire: “What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work – the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”
I am listening to Tom Petty. He is taking me into the lives of his songs. They will always be alive, even when now a part of me is breaking.