by ELI JACE >
“…And Never Come Down” – Tom Petty.
While Tom Petty lay in a coma, the world devoted the day to its new, unwelcome loss. After a daylong deluge of confusion in reporting, the confirmation finally came. One of America’s most cherished songwriters, Petty, died after suffering cardiac arrest, holding on long enough to slip away in the hospital hours later. It was officially 8:40 p.m. in California when Petty left this world for the great wide open. He was 66.
Petty wrote about America as a place of near-constant possibility, a place where the road always lead to something better, and over the decades his music with the Heartbreakers (and without) would become quintessential road music. Does nothing feel better than belting out a Tom Petty song while pushing 100mph on a straight, empty highway?
Any one of them. Take your pick: the vein-cutting guitar on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” first comes to mind. Then it’s “Running Down A Dream,” “Into The Great Wide Open,” “Breakdown,” “Refugee,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “American Girl,” ugh, I ache making this list, “Won’t Back Down,” “Louisiana Rain,” “Zombie Zoo,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” Christ, I’ve forgotten, “Free Fallin’.” Each one instantly recognizable. Each one painfully American.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers debuted with their self-titled album in 1976 just as the counterculture had settled nicely into society. They’ve owned every decade since and lay claim to the most satisfying end-to-end greatest hits collection. Petty’s song catalogue highlights American life better than any other songwriter before or after. Tales about being a loser, getting a record deal, road-tripping, fighting for love, rolling joints were dislodged from the everyday American experience and spun into radio gold.
The man wrote hits with immediate impact.
His songs didn’t change the nation like Dylan’s or venture far into the druggy id like Lou Reed’s or wax politically like Springsteen’s, but they put you in the mood to take what’s yours & get something from the day ahead, nevermind what else. They weren’t trying to be cool, they just effortless were.
As iconic as they get. The jangly guitar and crooked-jaw nasally voice are unmistakable, easy to replicate. The blond hair swept over his eyes and the Adam’s apple that hung out like a buzzard’s. Petty’s smile was kind, but mischievous with his lips curled over those picket white teeth. And his look never changed until recently when he let the beard grow and looked like an ex-Hollywood shaman who crawled back down into the valley for a visit.
Long known as deliverers of the hits live, the Heartbreakers finally started mixing their setlist with the back catalogue and jamming out beyond their most obvious songs. Recent years saw the revival of Mudcrutch, Petty’s original group with Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, who released Mudcrutch 2 in 2016. Petty’s last solo album, Highway Companion in 2006, and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye with the Heartbreakers, are still as good as anything in their discography.
Still hard to accept.
Another legend lost.