“Rock & roll songs are just cheap shit – nothing deeper than that.”
– Tom Petty
As anybody reading this knows by now, Tom Petty died this week, on Monday, October 2. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Petty’s music for a while now. A few thoughts.
I got my license. I was 16. It was probably too young to be bombing around the streets of my hometown of Bangor, but man, did I love those rides. Like a lot of American teens, I drove to alleviate boredom. Often I’d pick up a friend or two and we’d see what sort of trouble we could get into – there were donuts, sure, but also that little hill on Palm Street that if you hit the crest of it going fast enough, the car (well, at least my mom’s little Renault) would leave the ground (my kid’s never getting a driver’s license, by the way!). Drive out to Glenburn, smoke a joint, tromp through some woods, drive back home in the afternoon sun.
More often than not, though, I’d end up driving around alone. Bored at home, homework finished, no practice that afternoon, whatever, and, “hey, mum, can I go for a drive?” “Sure, be back for dinner.” And I’m off, to wherever. Drive out route 15, see where you end up. Check to see if a friend’s home. Sneak past Michele’s house (just one last time, seriously).
But with friends or alone, always music in the car. I was into classic rock, so it was often a Zepplin or Doors tape, maybe the Police. But I’ve also always loved the radio. Yeah, commercial radio (although I hate the commercials) – top 40, oldies, classic rock, alternative. Whatever. I love the lack of choice of it – to an extent, I mean, you can always change the station, but the lack of control means a lack of predictability. Sure, on some stations, you have a good idea of what you’re likely to hear, but maybe you’re in the mood for some J. Geils or Cyndi Lauper, so top 40’s going to work for you. And then the dj’s like, “check out this new song,” and “Fight for your Right (to Party)” comes on and you’re, like, what in the hell is this? I’m turning this up!
The thing is, whatever station I might throw on back in ‘87, there was a good chance a Tom Petty song would come round eventually – top 40, indie, classic rock, hell, by that point Petty had songs that might slip onto one of Maine’s many country music stations. I knew who Petty was by then of course. “Refugee” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” were MTV staples, unavoidable even on those after-school half-hour music video shows that local networks were throwing on in the mid-‘80s. And I knew a ton of Petty songs because they’d been ubiquitous on the radio for a decade. I just didn’t know that all those Petty songs were by the same guy (or, I should say, the same band because the Heartbreakers are a helluva band).