By Jack Sharkey, October 2, 2017
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. - Tom Petty
Rock stars passing away are just part of the news cycle anymore, but the testament to how powerful a force in our lives music is comes crashing down on us every once in a while when some stranger who wrote good songs that became a part of our own lives suddenly passes.
I never got the chance to see Tom Petty live, but his music has been an integral part of my life (and yours) for forty years. Since the death of radio at the hands of the Internet we will probably never again have universal rock stars that will write the soundtrack to the lives of each and every one of us. Of course musicians will continue to write the soundtracks of love, loss, drunkenness and joy for as long as there are humans, but the collective experience of one guy writing a bunch of songs that everyone relates to has sadly gone missing and that’s a shame.
My personal experience with Tom Petty started as a drummer in a middling bar band at the Jersey Shore in 1979 and being forced to learn Break Down, a song I neither liked nor knew, but damn if our singer was not bound and determined that I play the song exactly correct. To this day when I hear that song I am transported to a dingy rehearsal studio in Seaside Park, NJ, and I get angry all over again.
But it was the bigger radio hits of Damn the Torpedoes and the like that wrapped themselves into the fabric of my being. Commuting to school and work scrounging under the seats of my car for money to pay the twenty-five cent tolls on the Garden State Parkway and playing Refugee and Even the Losers as loud as the poor little cassette deck in my beat-up Ford could handle are emotional memories I’ll take with me until my brain stops storing thoughts. How could some rock star three thousand miles away exactly tell my story and do it with such force?
In the early 1990s, alone and unsettled, wandering the streets of a little oil town in Norway, I Won’t Back Down and Learning to Fly are forever playing in the background as I fondly recall those somewhat unpleasant days today. From all of that to discussing the finer points of Petty’s guitar sound in relationship to the Byrd's Roger McGuinn's sound as I dissected American Girl with my musician daughter to the joy of listening to my non-musician-but-beyond-knowledgeable son describe the vibe of Petty leading a crowd of 85,000 at Bonnaroo in a sing-along of the “perfect greatest hits list,” Tom Petty, I thank you for the soundtrack to my life.
Thanks to all of our readers for indulging me in saying goodbye to a stranger who has played a deep and defining role in all of our lives.
Music. It truly is magic and thank you Tom Petty for being a sorcerer.