Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tom Petty thing

The first 3 LPs that were ever gifted to me were The Police Zenyatta Mondatta, Rick Springfield Working Class Dog and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Hard Promises. I was 3 or 4, probably sometime around Winter 1984. I barely knew how to put on a pair of headphones, but for the first time, I was a fan of modern rock bands. I examined and stared at the artwork a lot trying to understand what was happening...

Damn The Torpedoes was handed to me not long afterwards. As a youngin', both albums initially felt like showcases for "The Waiting" and "Refugee." I rarely made it past "Here Comes My Girl" on DTT, but curiosity led me further down Side A of Hard Promises through "Nightwatchman," "Something Big" and "Kings Road." Tom Petty helped me learn to love one side of an LP.

It seems like my entire family always loved Tom Petty and especially "The Waiting." Grandpa loved to flip through channels, but he never touched the remote when a Tom Petty video came on.

I was initially scared by this picture. Once that wore off, the narrative my 4-year-old self invented was that The Heartbreakers were in a classroom. Tom Petty was their teacher and has his finger up to his mouth to shush any whispering students who might be disrupting. The goofy disguise glasses used to scare me.

"Event jam" hits = when a song's popularity surpasses its artist's name. "Free Fallin'" was Tom's post-Wilburies event. It seemed larger than radio and larger than MTV. He knew how to write the kinds of songs where kids could memorize all the words without owning a physical copy of his albums. The animated video for "Runnin' Down A Dream" felt mad trippy. I was also unaware that he had co-written "You Got It" within this era until years later.

VH1 did a "Tom Petty Weekend" on a Sunday in June 1991. There was an annual town carnival and fireworks within walking distance from my grandparents house, who had no problem with leaving on VH1 for so that I could let it fill a 6 hours VHS tape. "Learning To Fly" had premiered only a week or 2 prior and aired about once per hour. His MTV Rockumentary was also shown and included the story of how he broke his hand and the segment with Eddie Murphy's reaction to the shout-out in "Jammin' Me."

No other classic rock artist (not even Neil Young) was able to unwittingly capitalize on the grunge era as properly as Tom Petty. MTV played the shit out of "Mary Jane's Last Dance" (in which Kim Basinger miraculously comes back to life within the song's final 5 seconds after being buried at sea). A few months later when "You Don't Know How It Feels" dropped, the kids on the bus were intrigued: "Tom Petty smokes mad weed now." He was officially as cool as Cypress Hill and Snoop Doggy Dogg. This mid-'90s moment might have been the pinnacle of his popularity as a rock star - enough that he received the Michael Jackson Vanguard award at the '94 VMAs (just after playing a lengthy noise-coda to close "Mary Jane's Last Dance").

And he seemed so chill and humble about the whole thing. "I never expected an award."

Weirdly, the success of Wildflowers didn't generate enough momentum to turn his 1996 soundtrack of She's The One into nearly as big of a record as anything since Full Moon Fever. But it was a huge hit for me, and the second time in my life that I immersed myself in one of his albums thoroughly. She's The One and STP's Tiny Music (both borrowed from my dad) were my Fall 1996 go-to albums while playing Myst, Wolfenstein 3D, Lemmings and various other PC games.

My first ever attempt at a "Top 900 Songs Of The '90s" list (which would be re-written 15 or 20 times in the coming years) included "Mary Jane's Last Dance" at #17. (#1 was "Maze" by Phish. #900 was "Epic" by Faith No More.)

Howard Stern's first Sirius broadcast in January included "The Last DJ" played in its entirety.

At The Middle East Upstairs, my band opened for another band that spontaneously covered "Yer So Bad," a song that I had not heard in over 10 years. In 2016, it was the only Tom Petty song to place on the 500 Hottest Jams list at #483. I'm pretty sure this is now tied with "A Thing About You" as my favorite Tom Petty song.

I woke up on October 2nd, and the first thing I thought was that something bad had happened. Within 5 minutes, Twitter had confirmed the Las Vegas shooting. A few hours later, Tom Petty was trending with no other context. I threw together a radio show that night and played all deep cuts from 6:30PM until 8PM, hours before any confirmation was announced from his family.

Country bros, grunge kids, metal shredders, little kids, old homies. Everyone fucks with TP. The story's not over. "Time to move on."

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