Tom Petty, RIP

The coda to a sad day in the U.S. was a doozy – the unexpected death of rocker Tom Petty, apparently of a heart attack at his home in Malibu.

It's hard to see him go.  He came to the fore about when I came of age in the late 1970s, early 1980s, not quite punk, certainly not disco, not heavy metal, just the resurrection of good rock and roll, with evocative, memorable melodies, depicting great highs and lows that imprint on the time when they are heard.  To me, his songs evoke San Diego beaches, Los Angeles highways, San Francisco bars, wind-whipped Monterrey cypress trees at the end of Golden Gate Park, the first Silicon Valley nerds, and student all-nighters at the Foghorn, the student newspaper at the University of San Francisco.  That's just the dredgings of one person.  It's likely everyone has a slew of comparable memories when thinking of Petty's music.

Despite his music's capacity to capture a moment and sustain the emotionism of youth, it wasn't ephemeral.  It was well crafted, with high musicianship, fine lyrics, and original melodies that one can notice only if one plays the music again at a much older age.  It lasted.  It was art.  It was classy as a fine wine and could be played at a party without seeming dated.  And he kept producing more, all of it as good as his first stuff, so his career didn't really seem to be over.  And one reason we are sad is that we wanted more.

Petty himself, unlike many rock musicians, wasn't a jerk, either.  I would have forgiven him if he were, but he always came off as a professional music nerd, not an idiot who wanted to change the world by popping off and saying stupid things.  Nor did he show bad behavior at airport lounges or hotel rooms, let alone get busted for pot; Petty never made offensive statements to alienate at least half of his music base, something others might take heed of.  For that I was glad to read he died rich, with a net worth of $95 million and a nice place in Malibu.

The amazing and gratifying thing here is that so many celebrities, and people from all walks of life, are mourning his passing.  It's bigger than his low profile would suggest – from Bob Dylan to Sheryl Crow to Gene Stanley to Peter Gabriel, they all owe him a debt of gratitude – and there are a lot of them.  He spoke to all sides of the political spectrum, and the left and right are mourning him equally.  Even Ben Rhodes took a break from his Twitter "narratives" to put in a statement of grief.

All that's left now are his records.  It's not nothing.  Rest in peace, Tom Petty.

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