R.I.P., TP

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I cannot say I was a huge Tom Petty fan. I liked a lot of his songs. I never saw him live. Maybe I owned a cassette of “Hard Promises” in the Eighties. I mostly heard him on the radio a lot, or in other people’s homes or dorm rooms.

As my college buddy Bob Adsit said last night, his death is “Another loss of a voice that flooded my high school and college days.” And that he was.

When the idols of our youth die, there is a tendency to call it “the end of an era.” But it isn’t. We’re just acknowledging mortality, that’s all. In the next 25 years or so, we will probably say goodbye to McCartney, Jagger, Richards, Springsteen, Clapton, Plant, Page, et al. As well as pop, rap, TV and movie stars. It isn’t always easy to acknowledge that this is what the circle of life involves, but we have no choice except to embrace both our past and the future.

After yesterday’s murderous rampage in Las Vegas, I thought back to my awful senior year in high school. The song I most associate with that time is The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays,” based on a teenager who killed 2 adults and injured 8 children in San Diego.

But amidst my teenage ennui and depression, there was hope too. Tom Petty’s “Damn The Torpedoes,” released in fall 1979, was a nice breath of fresh air and optimism. “Refugee” was all over the airwaves that fall and winter. I always liked hearing it. Still do.

Thanks as always to Howard Enis for finding this!

When I graduated high school that spring, I decided not to go right into college. I instead took what they now call a “gap year.” I worked in a fabric factory, cutting bolts of tweed and vicuna for wall coverings, upholstery and blinds. Petty‘s first two LPs were integral to the regular mix of songs I would hear on WNEW-FM and WLIR-FM, the two “Album-Oriented Rock” (AOR) stations I listened to at my desk.

My supervisor at the factory, about 7 years my senior, was a great guy and a tolerant sort. Actually, he more than tolerant – a corrupting influence on a malleable 17-year-old is probably more accurate. He taught me some vices like racetrack gambling and how to drink. He worked me hard and got the company’s moneys worth from me, but he also helped me to play after.

While we shared similar tastes in music, particularly Springsteen, my supervisor hated Tom Petty. He derisively labeled the music “Three-Beat Tom” or “TP.” I never could figure that out. It was then I learned that even if you think someone is the coolest, not everyone can be in synch with how you feel.

When “Hard Promises” came out in the recessionary Spring of 1981, Tom Petty got a lot of positive press. He forced MCA to drop the price of his LPs and cassettes by one dollar to $8.98 (about $25 in today’s money). Petty wasn’t afraid of the record company, at a time when record companies dictated everything to the marketplace.

That made Tom Petty a consumer’s hero. The album was a good product that delivered what Petty fans needed and expected at a trying time. It made his victory even more triumphant.

When I got to college, it seemed like everyone in my dorm played Tom Petty. One guy listened to “Louisiana Rain” from “Damn The Torpedoes” and spoke wistfully of listening to it a lot while working construction on the Bayou. I began to understand that music meant different things to people. Soundtrack of our lives, as they say.

Petty really embraced MTV when it hit the scene. The “Alice in Wonderland” scenario of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the desolation of “You Got Lucky” stood out to me as very creative uses of the medium. Still, I didn’t take the guy all that seriously until Petty joined the Traveling Wilburys. I mean, if George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan wanted to make music with him, who was I to object?

Every indication is that Petty was a thoroughly liked and decent person. I know little about the guy’s personal life. That’s fine. A long marriage with children and grandchildren that ended. A heroin addiction in the Nineties that he overcame. A second, happy marriage. Many great live tours that I never saw. Some band tensions, but never a full breakup.

One thing I read in Petty’s obituary https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/arts/music/tom-petty-dead.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0 really stood out for me: in 2007, Petty re-assembled his Florida college band Mudcrutch. This finally gave founding members Tom Leadon and Randal Marsh a chance to make their debut album alongside the Heartbreakers.

That is something like Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr going back to Liverpool and giving Pete Best a shot at recording with them. And it’s probably as fitting a way to say farewell to a guy who gave us a lot of listening pleasure.

Life Is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans

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I turned off NPR this morning. A mass shooting with 50 murdered is not the way for a 1st-grader — or anyone — to start the day.

Among the other comments, parents on social media, on radio, with each other are asking how to tell their children about the horror in Las Vegas.

I don’t have an answer. Every child is different. Mine seems to deal with the truth in a pretty straightforward way. Others may be dealing with deeper-seated anxieties that something like this can trigger. Choosing to withhold discussion for now is also a legitimate choice.

Lately, my daughter has been asking a lot about The Beatles. She likes the music and is curious about them. That includes how old are they, who is alive and who is dead.

Just yesterday, she asked me how old George Harrison and John Lennon were when they died, and how it happened. I said George was 58 and had cancer. That one is easy for her. She knows that her grandmother died from cancer before she was born.

For John, I just told the truth without going into detail. I said John was 40 years old and shot by a man as he was leaving his house. I said the man with a gun had problems in the head that made him do it, I had just turned 18 and remember when it happened, and it was horrible. She absorbed that quietly.

I didn’t want to go into more specifics. I did quote John Lennon: life is what happens while we’re making other plans. Part of that means that no one knows what may be. Regardless, I said her mother and I will always keep her safe.

I don’t know if that helps other parents who are wrestling with what to do after school tonight. Every child is different, It’s simply one version of reality as I’ve chosen to deal with it.