Yesterday, rock music legend Tom Petty passed away at the age of 66 after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Growing up, when my family of five would go on drives together and pick a CD, there was only one musician that all of us could agree on — Tom Petty. Petty is a favorite among my parents — a larger than life, albeit humble rock star who spoke to my mom and dad in ways I’ll likely never understand. He is the first artist they truly loved, and because of that, they passed their adoration for his work onto my two siblings and me.
I vividly recall car rides with my parents soundtracked by “American Girl.” I remember the evenings my mom spent cleaning up after dinnertime, Petty’s box set playing in the background. My siblings and I often regarded our parents as embarrassing, and considered their favorite music to be a selection of artists we wouldn’t be caught dead listening to.
But even then, Petty was one of the few things I was glad they shared with me.
When I was their only child, I earned the privilege of attending concerts with them when they couldn’t secure a babysitter. One night, they had tickets to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but couldn’t find anybody to watch me — it was one of the luckiest nights of my life.
For a young child, not yet able to decide what music I liked for myself, it was a dream come true to watch from the crowd as Petty performed.
I climbed onto my seat and stood on my tiptoes, my eyes shifting from the stage to the audience. I still remember how Petty held their attention, how my parents danced, how all of the adults around them danced. From drunken sways to booze-fueled sing-alongs, the crowd regarded Petty with sincere love. You never really know what it’s like to truly experience a concert until a thousand or so fans are yelling at the top of their lungs to “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
Petty’s passing is significant, leaving a hole where an admirable, relatable rock star used to be.
He’s a man of innovation and heart; his songs speaking to a multitude of fans, each with varying backgrounds. His music is one that impacts you immediately, the songs forever tucked in your heart, leaving an unshakable impression.
I know Petty is important because, for nearly 20 years of my life, I have been unable to forget him.
I’m no longer the young girl that stands on tiptoes at concerts to see the stage, and my parents aren’t the young couple, freshly married with a child in tow. Still, despite the years that have passed and how my tastes have changed, I can never pass up a Petty song when it plays on the radio.
My favorite memories of my family are the times I watched my mom sing along to Petty; her words never right, but her heart always intact. My dad would then play his harmonica or guitar, trying to match the notes and play along, but never quite matching Petty’s greatness. I never really saw my parents love music the way they did with Petty, and that level of fandom is something instilled in me, apparent in my work as a music critic.
My childhood seems to be filled with recollections that are either soundtracked by Petty or that revolve around his music. I remember the first time my mom discovered the meaning of the “mary jane” Petty sang about in “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” I remember the mix tape my brother made for his morning drives to high school, one or two Petty songs included.
Yesterday, when we heard the news of Petty’s passing, my two siblings and I turned to our group text, his music once again bringing us back together.
From links to Tweets and music videos, to family moments centered around the musician, we recalled the way Petty had forever left his mark on us. His songs are ones we’ll never stop singing.