The legacy of Tom Petty
By Kali Bradford
This week we lost a rock music icon.
To coin a phrase from his well-known song, “Free Falling,” Tom Petty free-fell out into nothing and left this world for, sadly, more than just a little while.
While saddened by the deaths of many musicians in the past, Petty’s death has left me more than just saddened, and remembering that no matter how long we have someone we love and look up to, it is never long enough. A feeling of never really being whole again will always be with us when we lose them.
I am also thinking about our legacy, and what will be thought of and felt about us once we’re gone.
To keep from becoming too morbid or sad this week, I want to celebrate Petty’s life and the music he created that will make his memory live on.
Born and raised in northern Florida, Petty began playing music while he was still in high school. At the age of 17, he dropped out of school to pursue a musical career.
He teamed up with The Heartbreakers in 1976, and over the next four decades made musical history, both with successful solo and collaborative careers.
We fans know and have memorized well-known songs like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Refugee,” and that’s not even close to scratching the surface.
The Heartbreakers were not the only band he teamed up with during his career. His time with The Traveling Wilburys, a band composed of musical superstars such as George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan, gave us songs such as “End of Line” and “Handle with Care.”
If you don’t know who they are, YouTube is awaiting your search. You won’t be disappointed.
The great thing about Petty is that he was never vanilla about music. He was like that weird rainbow flavor that you’re afraid to try, but once you do, vanilla just never tastes right again.
I got to see Petty for the first time as a teenager with my parents. Already versed in his music from a young age thanks to my parents, they
loaded my sister and me in the car and we headed out to Starwood Amphitheatre in Nashville.
It was a concert I will never forget and I thank my parents for taking me. I saw Petty perform two more times over the years, with a final time in 2014, when he and The Heartbreakers headlined Bonnaroo.
It was raining, but that only seemed to sweeten the whole experience.
Each time, seeing Petty was like a new experience. It was almost like truly leaving this world for a while and, upon returning, becoming a better person for having made the trip.
Petty described it best when discussing the magic that music possesses.
“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”
He also made a point about the longevity and power of rock ’n’ roll in a recent interview with “Rolling Stone” that would turn out to be his last.
“It was about moving people, and changing the world, and I really believed in rock ’n’ roll — I still do.”
I’m sure I don’t speak for only for myself when I say that Petty did that for all of us. And even now that he’s no longer with us, we still believe in him and his music.
A legacy is something that, in the craziness of life, is rarely thought of, but when done right, can bring a form of immortality.
We live on through our good deeds, children and grandchildren, works of art and, in Petty’s case, his overwhelming humbleness and ability to pen a song and create music that have become part of the soundtracks of our lives.
Now that’s magical.
We will miss you Tom, but you will continue to rock on.
My Tom Petty Top 10
“Learning to Fly”
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
“Don’t Come Around Here No More”
“You Wreck Me”
“Here Comes My Girl”
“Don’t Do Me Like That”