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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why This One Hurts More

Tom Petty.

I'm not going to give you a career overview or anything like that. I'm going to get personal, because this one... this particular one... 

It really hurt.

Now, I didn't know Tom Petty. I never had the pleasure of meeting him.  I only knew him through his music, but that music meant so, so much to me throughout my life.

Growing up in Florida in the 1970's and 80's, being a fan of rock music meant listening to the songs of "others".  Those "others" were from places like New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, London and Liverpool.  Those were the places where the rock and roll "scenes" were legendary and I was/am a fan of all of them. 

In Florida at that time, we had no scene.  The closest we'd come was around the time Lynyrd Skynyrd took that fateful plane ride and the remnants of the southern rock scene they helped spawn were bands like Molly Hatchet, .38 Special and Blackfoot.  They were good bands but they weren't "rock bands".  They were "Southern Rock" bands. To someone like me who was gravitating to punk and heavy metal music and didn't particularly like country those bands didn't really do much for me.

But what I did have was Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.  They were real rock and roll and they had sprung up from Gainesville, Florida.  Sure, they'd moved to L.A. (to be closer to that "scene" we were lacking back home), but the great thing about Tom Petty was he never forgot where he came from.  If you were from Florida or the South in general, he left you little clues in his songs that let you know he was still one of you.

Probably the best example for me personally is in the song "American Girl".  The first time I heard it, I was thirteen years old and listening on my Sony Walkman to a radio station out of West Palm Beach (99 WIZD - "The Wizard").  It was after nine on a school night and I was listening in bed when I should have been asleep. 

One lyric grabbed me.  

"She could see the cars roll by out on 441, like waves crashing on the beach."

There was only one 441, HWY 441, which went right through the middle of the town I lived in and was only a couple of miles or so from my house at the time.  

Where other artists' songs were speaking about love or heartache in a more generic way, Tom Petty had just sung a song that was about the place where I was living.  That "American Girl" could have been sitting next to me at school for all I knew and her longing for something different and better was the same as mine.

A lot of Petty's songs spoke to me like that.  The lyrics about "spanish moss" and being a "landlord and a renter" in the song "Down South" stood out like neon lights to me the first time I heard them.
"Southern Accents" can bring me to tears to this day with its tale of a southern man lost in the modern world.  

Later, when I moved to California myself, other songs took on new meaning as I suddenly had a visual for places like "Mulholland", "Reseda" and "Ventura Boulevard".   

It all became personal again and maybe that's because I'd unwittingly just followed in his footsteps from one side of the country to the other.  Either way, the fact remains that his music touched me in a way that very few other artists' work has ever touched me.  

As I said above, I didn't know Tom Petty, but he sure as hell knew me. 

That's why this one hurts more.


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