Last night, I watched a special Fans.com stream of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live at Lockn fest from 2014.
The show was from the tour for their last album, Hypnotic Eye, which was almost a return to a harder edged sound of their first two albums. It actually contained a fair number of new songs, something Petty didn’t do very often.
Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever album was the first CD I ever owned. My parents bought it for me the same Christmas I got my first CD player. I was 13, I think. Before that, the first Tom Petty album I ever owned was 1982’s Long After Dark, which I bought on vinyl out of the bargain bin at the Record Bar in Carbondale’s University Mall.
That particular album is somewhat overlooked except for the single, “You Got Lucky,” which was a hit on MTV. When I was much younger than 12, I watched that video and the one for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” over and over again.
The first time I was supposed to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live was in 1991 when they were on the Into The Great Wide Open tour. Some older friends of mine were driving to St. Louis to see the show, which was almost two hours from home. My parents thought I was too young to go with a group unaccompanied by seasoned adults, so I stayed home. It was fortunate, because they ended up in a car accident on the way home.
Though I didn’t get to see that show, in the subsequent years, I saw Petty several times. All the shows were awesome. But in 2017, when Petty and the Heartbreakers were on their 40th anniversary tour, I decided against hitting the date in St. Louis. Why? Well, in the last decade or so, the set list was pretty stagnant, full of the old war horses. Pretty similar to many of the shows I’d seen. Anyways, I’d go see him again another time.
However, some of my wife’s friends wanted to go to the date in Kansas City, and it sounded like a fun trip, so sure. We made a weekend of it. Hit some breweries in KC.
The show itself was good, as always. We had the worst seats in the house. The very last row at the top. But our friends, Brian and Heather loved it. It was the first time they had seen Petty. Brian was taking video with his phone. They absolutely loved it. I was glad I went.
And then a few months later, Tom Petty was gone.
KC was a great final memory. Of course, I’m so glad I went. And, of course, I had clearly taken the opportunity to see Tom Petty live for granted. But Tom Petty was always easy to take for granted.
How many artists never made a bad album? Even Dylan — who’s the tops for me — has made a few stinkers. Petty didn’t make a bad album. He made a few that were lesser. None were bad.
All those songs. Man, everyone one of them, when you hear them on the radio, you turn it up.
When I started writing and playing my own music, I may have wanted to write songs like Bob Dylan, but the music I played and the band I wanted to have — it was all Tom Petty.
When I was watching the live stream last night, you could tell there was something not quite right with Tom. Even though it was three years before his death, he definitely looked like he was winded, and even toward the end of the show — in pain. I mean, he sounded great. The band played great, but watching him — something was off.
With the perspective of the last three years, it’s most likely that Tom was in pain. He played on a broken hip those last few shows in 2017. Whatever his relationship with fentanyl and the other opioids in his system, he was clearly in pain. His family’s statements after his death seemed to indicate that he had a number of conditions that would indicate that he was in pain on the date of that show in 2014.
I don’t know what I think about that. I don’t know if it was heroic for Tom to power through the pain to make sure to not disappoint his fans. I don’t really care to make that judgement either.
I just miss Tom Petty.
He had a lot more music left in him and I wish he was still here to share it.
And though so many times before his death, I took him for granted. I definitely don’t now. I still turn the radio up loud when one of his songs is on. I appreciate the dedication to his craft and every time I listen to his music, I make sure to take the time to appreciate it.
Full Moon Fever is one of the greatest albums of all time. Period. And there’s no better album to play loud while you’re driving with the windows down on a summer day.
My favorite album of his is the first I bought, Long After Dark. It’s just raw, it rocks in a way unlike any of his other albums, except maybe Echo, one of my other favorites.
I’ll never make an album as good as a Tom Petty album, that’s a fact. But I hope I can make music with the same integrity, same passion and same dedication.
And as I watched Tom in pain playing that show last night — whether it was heroic or not — for a moment I was able to go back to all those times I had seen him live. I was able to go back to all the times I saw those videos on MTV. To the first time I listened to Full Moon Fever on my new CD player. To watching Brian and Heather at their first Petty show in Kansas City. And that’s what Tom Petty’s music does to you. It creates a moment all over again. One simultaneously in the past and the present. Just like the best music always does. And I didn’t take one second for granted.
I miss Tom Petty.