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Tom Petty: the man, the myth, my friend

Oct. 13, 2017
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Tom Petty truly was the voice of a generation. But whose? Our mom’s, maybe, or our older cousin’s, but certainly not our generation… or was he?

When news spread quickly following Tom’s death on October 2nd, I was stun-stricken by the number of friends who Tweeted, posted, and whispered, “Tom, who?” Tom freaking Petty, that’s who! I found it alarming how many people seemed unaffected by, much less unaware of, this incredible man’s death. 

“Deaths come in threes!” 

“The guy from The Doors?” 

“What was his greatest hit?”

And then I realized that maybe not every kid was fortunate enough to have the incredible, rock-and-roll upbringing that I did. I remember the night my dad made me my first mixtape—and yes, it actually was a tape. He took the “best of” hits and passed them on: Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, and most of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. I listened to that tape for hours and hours—in between N’SYNC and The Spice Girls, of course. But it wasn’t N’SYNC or Ginger Spice that stuck with me, though I still jam to them from time to time. It was Eric. And Mick. And John and Paul. 

And Tom.  

Tom Petty. Tom and I have fallen freely since I was seven years old. We’ve run down many dreams together. We’ve broken down (before getting back together, of course). He’s even helped me learn to fly. Perhaps it’s because I’m an American Girl. Or maybe it’s just time to move on, time to get going…

The world has lost an icon. My parents have lost a friend. And me? Well, that’s one concert I’ll never get to see again. Thankfully, I’ve seen Tom before, but I pity anyone who never had the chance. 

What kills me most is not the amount of hits he has under his belt, because it’s a running list, but the fact that there could’ve been so many more. Losing Tom at the mere age of 66 is both devastating and alarming. My dad, the man who introduced me to Tom, is only a few years younger. As sad as it is for me to say a premature goodbye to Tom Petty, I can’t even imagine what it must feel like for his death to double as a reminder of your own mortality.

And for those of you asking “Tom, who?” I dare you to see a movie, listen to classic rock radio, or watch an afternoon of Super Bowl commercials without a hint of Tom. He’s there. He’s everywhere. Even if you don’t know him like I knew him, even if you didn’t have a dad who made you mixtapes, you still know who Tom Petty is. Was. 

And if you’ve been living under a rock for the last fifty years, you’ll know him soon enough—his song sales have spiked more than six thousand percent since his death last Monday. If nothing else, take this time to get to know Tom. Get to know him and love him like I have. There’s no avoiding it. You can’t not love him. Not just his music, but him. Most importantly, share him. Share him with your friends, your family, and your seven-year-old daughters. They might not come on cassette anymore, but a mixtape never goes out of style. 

Tom never backed down, and neither will I. No, I won’t back down.