I suppose every grief process you go through is different; with most of my other musical heroes departed recently, the sadness has usually come together with a lot of rumination right away. In the case of Tom Petty, however, after the initial pang of pain, my stance for some time has been something more along the lines of "yeah, I know...", "I'll get to that later..."
I guess you could say I was in denial; the habit of knowing that Tom Petty is no longer with us is a tough one to acquire, and as usual (argh), it happened in a waay too untimely and sad manner.
In the latest weeks, however, my initial tendency has peacefully, naturally shifted towards one of simple acceptance, recognition and gratefulness. I've been hanging out quite a lot lately in the tubes with Tom and his buddies, listening to him talk shop, and enjoying the incredible energy and unique vibe of his band.
I've been familiar with Tom's great songs for a long time; like I mentioned in a previous post, among other no small feats, his music helped me cope during a particular tough period in my recent life. But I hardly knew anything about him as a person. What I've found, turns out, connects in a way with my "lazy" attitude towards processing the news.
Tom Petty was a person devoted to music like no other; in one of the documentaries he defines musician as "a noble profession", which he approaches in terms of service: you get in, help people forget their problems for a while, and you're done with your day's work.
Not the regular rock star stance, that's for sure. With him the music was always in the first place, and he was always very grounded, very conscious and grateful of his wonderful gift and the possibility of using it in the way he did. That attitude shows in every bit of his music, that has absolutely no fluff. His songs are all well rounded, just like oranges are rounded. There are no fillers; bred in the school -and personal friend- of Bob Dylan, he sees no point in demanding an audience's attention unless he really has something to share. And share he does.
I've also loved to discover him as a member of a "band of brothers". The "and the Heartbreakers" in the artistic denomination is not some kind of polite concession; all the members of the band bring their own musicianship to the table, and it's incredible to see them perform, at some moments with that mask of pure concentration in their faces that shows they feel what they do is precious and must be well executed (another musician on which I've seen that kind of concentration sometimes is Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler; you see him play and it's like he's saying "hey, I'd like to rise an eyebrow as a greeting, but you see, I have 100% of my resources committed right now to nail this part"...)
Watching Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play live is watching the beauty and the awe of unity of purpose; what happens when a bunch of humans set out a common goal and work together to get it. "Tight" doesn't even start to define it, a lot of bands are tight in different ways. It's magic.
So this is what Tom Petty lived for, and the rest are silly details, not interesting to him, or to me. We have his music and his example. Not his model, which is different; it's not about imitating Tom Petty, it's about following his example: be the best "you" that you can be, and stick to it through thick and thin.
I also have to say that in some of the latest interviews he looks (he says it himself) a bit battered and tired. Maybe he found hard to take the turn the world has taken nowadays. He famously fought back record companies at one point against their price tyranny, but how do you fight back the shady, ubiquitous Googles and Trumps of today? I find a lot of that contemporary sadness and uneasiness in a song I've already mentioned, "Shadow people", one of my favorites, and the last song of what turned out to be his last record. "Shadow people... in shadow land..."
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it