I don’t often write about music – in fact, this is my first time publishing a music post – although I have a draft about Leonard Cohen that never made it out of its half-spun cocoon last fall. I’m not a musician – I was dragged to piano lessons for 10 years of my childhood and took music each year of high school for some easy ‘A’s, but living with a proper, fully realised musician means that when he’s not home, silence, TV or podcasts are my usual jam.
But this week the side of me that loves the jangly acoustic guitar and soulful lyrics of not one, but two singer-songwriters busted the folksy-hippie-chick side of me right out of whatever recess she normally absents herself to, and cracked open my heart in the process.
It started while I was watching the most recent episode of Outlander. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about – pairing those devastating final scenes with this beautiful Bob Dylan cover:
And then the universe decided that within 2 minutes of drying my tears for a well-loved, but ultimately fictitious character, I should receive the news that Tom Petty was dying/near death/dead.
Oh Tom. If anyone’s held my soul in thrall all these years, it’s Tom Petty. One night last December I was happily flying high on some career success, and a glass or two of wine,
singing to the cat rocking out in my living room to Tom Petty and wondering how he was doing – 2016 wasn’t quite over yet. A quick google confirmed that he was not only alive and well but announcing a tour with a stop in London’s Hyde Park. Tickets were purchased and Tom Petty!!!!!!!!! typed into my online calendar for 9 July.
Except, except, except… I.Can’t.Stand.Concerts. Literally. No matter how comfortable the shoes, I have trouble standing for long periods of time, so all-day outdoor concerts with general admission are basically a circle of hell for me. Even though it would mean that we’d be pretty far back, Jeff and I decided to arrive right before Tom was scheduled to go onstage. Before they appeared I even still had a moment of wondering why we’d gone through all the trouble of taking the train to London so we could stand in a park watching a screen of the far-off, tiny stage. And then the music started and I forgot about my feet, forgot about everything. I was super embarrassed at the time, but some of my favourites: “Walls”, “Wildflowers”, “Free Fallin'”, “Into the Great Wide Open”, and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” made me cry (and yes, I ran out of tissues). I think sometimes part of the reason I don’t listen to great music that often is because my favourites affect me so strongly. Hard to explain choked-up tears on a bus, train or in the office. I’m also looking at you, Leonard Cohen.
This wasn’t the first time Tom Petty had affected me so much. Wildflowers is an album that often ended up on repeat, I fell asleep to it many, many times, and it’s simply one of my desert-island discs. Vox, in their wonderful piece, Tom Petty can’t be explained in just 11 songs. We tried anyway. did a nice job of summing up what spoke to me but could nonetheless never quite put my finger on:
…“American Girl” also gets at the heart of Petty’s great thematic concern: the lives of ordinary people who can’t escape either their circumstances or the perhaps foolhardy dreams they can’t give up.
and this, about “Free Fallin'”
…a great reminder of how good Petty was at capturing the gap between desire and fulfillment.
I may not be an American girl, but well have I known that feeling of being trapped in a small town, with outsized dreams that felt like they were never going to take flight.
And finally, I have Tom Petty to thank for feeling at peace with our decision to up sticks and move to England. One day in Toronto, when we were getting close to the point of no return, I was walking alone on my lunch hour, wondering for the umpteenth time if we were making the biggest mistake of our lives. A car pulled up to the same intersection I was waiting at, and “Wildflowers” just happened to be blaring on its stereo (where Tom Petty’s music sounds best, if I’m honest). As I stood there, Tom sang “Go away, somewhere all bright and new”. Thanks for the well-timed epiphany, Tom.
Rest in peace.
And in case you were wondering – the wildflowers in Yorkshire are pretty great.