R.I.P. Tom Petty

silence screencapTom Petty died three weeks ago, and I’m still not used to a world without him. I interviewed him just once (for the first Mudcrutch album, about ten years ago)–he was gracious and professional and insisted that I stick around to listen to rehearsal rather than be ejected into the afternoon rush hour of the San Fernando Valley. But his music had long been a soundtrack of my life (as it was for so many people), and I treasure that I got to see him a half-dozen times over the years (including one show at the legendary Fillmore stand).

One source of solace recently was hearing about the Los Angeles vampire community moving west down Ventura Boulevard in tribute to Petty. Another was being invited by the good people of Billboard to write about Petty’s legacy; when I asked if I could tackle “American Girl,” they immediately said yes. If you’d like to read my essay about “American Girl” and its wide-ranging impact on our culture, there’s a little more to life somewhere else.

A paragraph that got cut because of space limitations:

The lyrics of “American Girl” are deceptively simple; Petty wasn’t trying to compete with Elvis Costello in the Wordplay Olympics. Or as he told Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone in 1977, “I ain’t making records for somebody who’s going through their dictionary.” But “God it’s so painful when something that’s so close / Is still so far out of reach” perfectly expresses longing, just like “the waiting is the hardest part” does—Petty had a knack for cutting down human emotions to their essence. Here, as in many of his best songs, he walks right up to the edge of cliché before taking one crucial step back. (Consider “You Wreck Me,” a song that Petty originally wrote as “You Rock Me”—he knew that just one changed vowel could transform a hackneyed lyric.) In the painful aftermath of Petty’s death, many fans shared stories about how his music provided a bridge to relatives and roommates who they had nothing else in common with. The universal quality of Petty’s songwriting is why his music was woven into so many disparate lives.

posted 24 October 2017 in Outside and tagged . no comments yet

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