Sometimes, it’s easier that way. I could make it about mass shootings or hurricanes or a world on fire, but I wouldn’t know where to begin, and I certainly wouldn’t know where to end. I can’t wrap my head and heart around the enormity and hopelessness and despair. I’m not ready. As long as I can feel and heal, and give and organize and teach. I can imagine the impact without truly knowing it firsthand – but I’m aware I’m not safe or exempt. And my kids are freedom fighters – ready to spread that love and that power. So I hope it’s ok with you that I don’t write about it right now. I can barely sleep as is.
I can talk about Tom Petty. I’ve had some misses with him. He was always on my Master Bucket List, and not even shoved into some sub-genre, like “Photography Bucket List” or “Concert Bucket List.” When I do things, I do them in style. Like Bruce Hornsby. And Tim Curry. He played at the Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park in 2008, literally seconds from my doorstep, but I was anxious and I missed it. He played out in Boston just in July – and we could have gone on our way to Cape Cod with the kids – and I said, “Nah, I’m sure I’ll have another chance next year.” And now, I won’t get a chance.
The thing is, it hurts so much for so many reasons. Some people are only out there to put out good in the world. Some input, tons of output. I said to Cassidy that first night, “I don’t want a world without Tom Petty.” I don’t know a world without him. I don’t want to think that nothing else will come out of that brilliant brain, and we won’t ever again have the promise of new music from him to comfort us, and lull us to sleep. Warm, fuzzy comfort in the face of cold, prickly despair and fear.
We have decades of his music, of course. I’m always affected when another bright light goes out. I’m still in denial about Alan Rickman! David Bowie was like a gut punch to the system, but I was already going through so much pain and fear when he died, that it only induced months and years worth of transferred grief. So many others loved and lost. I want him back.
I’ve never felt this way about an artist’s death. It’s because it touches upon those pieces of me that I miss most about myself. It is a growth and an aching and pain and joy and discovery. It’s like when you’re watching a movie. Some deaths hurt more than others. You could watch hundreds of characters get shot for two hours and feel nothing, but then the death of Chris O’Donnell’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes is enough to leave you with breathless nightmares for months.
Sometimes it hurts more than other times. That’s Tom Petty for me. Now I get it. It feels like broken dreams. I’ve been listening to him for as long as I can remember, because he was my mom’s art muse. She’d draw to him for years – up in her third floor studio overlooking the forest – under lamplight. Funny how my office is built just like that these days.. I memorized the whole Wildflowers album on our regular car rides to the horse farm. We especially loved tracks #6 and #9.
When I was in my 20’s and had the worst, nearly only, and most massive broken heart of my life, I made a mix cd and drove alone to the middle of nowhere Maine to be with myself for a few days. “Learning to Fly” was the only song that gave me any light in the dark, and to this day, it’s one of my top ten favorite songs OF ALL OF LIFE. It holds a higher power.
I also jotted down a list of my top ten Tom Petty songs, not necessarily in order: Learning to Fly. Two Gunslingers. A Face in the Crowd. Time to Move On. Into the Great Wide Open. Angel Dream No.4. Walls. Won’t Back Down (Live on the Anthology). Crawling Back to You. And, It’s Good to Be King. Speaking of which, the part at 3:10 is so me it’s scary. And then the part of the song that starts just before the 4:00 mark is one of the most musically transcendent experiences I know.
Go there now. I’ll wait.. And be loud with it. That part of the song touches the deepest parts of me. I’ll never stop believing and dreaming and loving and fantasizing and getting starry-eyed if I hear that part of that song.
Many of us use his music to feel better on days in which nothing else works. And to think we lost him on a day in which nothing can make us feel better. Unfathomable. Find that squishy part of your heart and put on your favorite Petty song.