The world’s been feeling a little less cool lately

Tom Petty’s death has me thinking about artistic influences. As a creative-type person, I have no clue who I’d be without them. I’ve loved creative expression since early in childhood. 

Something about the likes of Shel Silverstein and Langston Hughes struck me just a bit more than the countless other authors I thoroughly enjoyed in childhood and adolescence. Their writing was real and raw no matter how silly or fun or poignant or painful.

Antoine de St. Expery left a permanent mark on my thinking when I came across Le Petit Prince during a high school French class. Truly if we all understood that on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur (one can only see well with the heart), and l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux (the essential is invisible to the eyes), the world would be a much better place.

As much as I love the written word in and of itself, it’s music I turn to, though, to put my mind in order. In short I need tunes to write and create stuff. Words are all the better for having music with them because music can go to places words can’t on their own.

My taste in music is all over the place and my list of absolute favorites defines eclectic. However, two contemporary artists stand head and shoulders above the rest, and Petty is one of them.

Given the circumstances prompting the post, I’ll avoid naming the other since he’s still alive, and I don’t want to send out any bad mojo or whatever.

Anyone close to me has endured some kind of spiel about why these two artists are so compelling to me. I’ve even blogged about raising my kids on the gospel according to Petty and I’m inclined to pronounce waiting, wai-ai-a-ting. 

I hate to put the compound word middle-aged anywhere near my sense of self, but nonetheless, I keep having bouts with conditions I associate with the term — like nostalgia flare-ups and the occasional tear as more and more of my favorite artistic influences pass on from this world. 

I know it’s crazy to grieve artists who are complete strangers. A life of creative expression, though, is to walk an unknown path of experimentation, a journey that requires honing and reshaping and reinventing at every unknown turn.

Artistic influences are the total strangers who light the way.

The best sounds in rock and roll came together in Petty’s head and came out in signature guitar chords, drumbeats that rumble the soul, and lyrics/vocals that made  thousands of people want to sing along.

For four decades Petty recreated and reinvented his unique sounds like a true lover of his craft, and lovers of rock and roll are all the better for his craftsmanship. Also key to his sound — Petty had an eye for talent with which to work and collaborate.

I used to tell my kids Petty was a master of building feeling and momentum to a perfect height before finding the right place to end the song.

Like the best things in life, Petty songs leave me totally satisfied, but still wanting more. That’s why every time I’d hear a Petty song ending on the radio, I’d think, I wish it were a double shot. Or if it happened to be a double shot day on whatever station, I’d hope that I was catching the first of the pair.

Countless times I’ve thought that Petty was one of the few artists I could listen to all day on the radio and not get sick of his sound. 

Sadly, the day after he died, I got to find out I was right. Thankfully WBLM played Petty all day to honor him, and I kept the station streaming on my computer and on my radio in my car.

Whenever I was near either, I heard non-stop Petty, and yes, I can listen to him all day and not get sick of his sound. It was a sucky way to find out, though. 

Worse, I never got to see him live. Again, anyone close to me knows a Petty concert is at the top of my bucket list, and I guess it’ll have to wait till I kick it now. 

Until I do, I’ll keep cranking his tunes gratefully; Wildflowers and Traveling Wilburys Volume One provided the rhythms for my fingers as I typed this post. 

And eventually I’ll be able to sing along without occasionally catching my breath at the thought of the creator of all that coolness being gone.

It was hard to pick a vid to include in this post. My favorites tend to be tracks from live shows, but those videos aren’t necessarily authorized. Of the authorized ones available, I picked this one because it’s cool to think about this song from 1989 and written with frequent collaborator Jeff Lynne going on to become anthemic as seen in the Florida Gator footage above.

Like I’ve told my kids a million times, Petty is as American as apple pie, and maybe even a bit more American than baseball. I know plenty of Americans who dislike baseball.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.