- 23 Oct 17
Music recently lost another iconic rock and roll figure with the sad passing of Tom Petty. As well as being one of the great American songwriters, Petty’s extraordinary life and times also encompassed record company wrangles, divorce, drug problems, a mid-career slump and an eventual triumphant resurgence. Tribute: Pat Carty
In a recent Guardian article, Michael Hann argued that celebrity deaths affect us so, because the generations since the ’50s have really been co-parented by popular culture. Thus, when someone in the rock pantheon dies, we are reminded of the death of an actual parent, or shockingly prepared for one. I’m more inclined to think that the death of someone like Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, and now Tom Petty, cuts so deeply because no art form touches us the same way as music. Indeed, there have been scant few artists who could transfigure R&B, pop, country and poetry into pure joy like Petty. And he had The Heartbreakers, America’s greatest rock and roll band outside of E-Street.
Petty was true believer from early on. His uncle took him to the set of an Elvis movie, and the thunderstruck 10-year-old immediately traded his Wham-O slingshot for a stack of 45s. The Beatles arrived when he was 13, and his path was set. Once time was served in school bands, he formed the fabulously named Mudcrutch. While auditioning a drummer, he found guitarist Mike Campbell in a back room, who was attracted to the songwriting; Petty already had future hits like ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ on the boil.
They added Benmont Tench on keyboards, and Petty would marvel all his life at his good fortune in finding these two virtuosi. He made the trip from his native Florida to LA to hawk a reel-to-reel tape around the record companies.