Even the Losers
October 6, 2017 § Leave a comment
Tom Petty died this week. He was young, too, only 66. Massive heart attack. Like many other people, the soundtrack of my life has been peppered by Tom Petty, both with the Heartbreakers and solo. I remember his single with Stevie Nicks, ‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around,’ in 1981. It was an almost total radio presence as I sat in the backseat of my mom’s car driving around Victoria, BC. ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ was a staple of MuchMusic (Canada’s MTV) in the mid-1980s, and remains one of my favourite videos of all-time. ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ was on constant play in the jukebox of the restaurant I worked at in the spring of 1994. And while I haven’t followed his more recent music, his Greatest Hits package is in rotation in our house.
I can think of no greater tribute I can pay to Tom Petty than the fact that even in my hardest of hardcore days, in the early 1990s, I still dug on his music. Of course, I got gently mocked by my friends and roommates for my insistence on melody in my music. But I remained unapologetic.
In the wake of his death, I keep reading how he embodied Americana in the stories he told in his songs. I’m not so sure about that. Tom Petty’s lyrics always seemed to me to be kind of out there, the characters of his songs out of some alternative universe. He didn’t sing of white picket fences and apple pie. He didn’t sing about Ford pickups and football. In a lot of ways, he mocked this America. His songs were about the underdogs, I always thought. Like Eddie in ‘Into the Great Wide Open,’ which in many ways is a typical Hollywood success story, except for the dark undertones of the lyrics. Hell, one of his biggest hits was called ‘Even the Losers,’ and it was them that Petty seemed to champion to me.
It’s a fact of life that people get old and they die. But sometimes, the death of celebrities hits hard. Last year, it was David Bowie and Leonard Cohen whose deaths left me reeling (especially Cohen’s, I don’t like a universe without Montréal’s favourite son in it). This year, it’s Petty’s. I guess this happens when the soundtrack to our lives gets suddenly muted.