So. Word just came down that Tom Petty died today (well, yesterday Central Daylight Time, but it’s still October 2 in California as I write this). Petty was one of the celebrities I always kind of hoped I’d bump into on one of our trips to California, but we never did. I don’t think. I generally have to have people point celebrities out to me, so for all I know, I walked right past him and just didn’t notice.
I first became aware of his music in 1979. I was in eighth grade and my English teacher wanted us to write the lyrics for our favorite song down as part of his poetry unit. My two favorite songs were Rock Lobster by the B-52s and Refugee. We didn’t have the Internet in our homes at the time, and so I had to try to puzzle out the lyrics by myself. I didn’t even try with Rock Lobster, so I dedicated myself to figuring out the lyrics to Refugee. I didn’t do too badly, but the bridge tripped me up. Finally I had to call my mom in for assistance. She had some really creative interpretations of song lyrics (one of my favorites was the Beach Boys asking Rhonda to “skate around in (his) heart”), but when she was actually paying attention, she was better at it than I was. At least when I was 13, she was. She threw up her hands in despair pretty quickly, so I ended up using Cliff Richard’s We Don’t Talk Anymore, which I liked okay, but, most importantly, Richard enunciated fairly clearly.
I have always been terrible about keeping up with musicians, so I generally was an album or two behind in my collection (which are pretty much all on cassette tapes; I really should start collecting them on CD (I will buy individual songs as MP3s, but for stuff that I want to keep long-term, I still like to buy CDs because I don’t have to rely on the continued existence of the server that I got the song from if I want to listen to it later)).
In 1991, Thomas and I went to see Petty’s stop at Poplar Creek for his Into the Great Wide Open tour and I had a blast. Thomas was not so much of a fan, but he was good company anyhow. I remember that concert with great fondness. About a month later, my folks and I were at the mall and I was wearing the T-shirt I got at that concert and some guy stopped me because he hadn’t known that Petty was on tour. He was very disappointed when I told him how long ago the concert had been.
Over the years, I discovered new musicians and new genres (and started listening to music in foreign languages once I got the Internet and such a thing became easier than it had been in the 1980s). I still loved Tom Petty, but loved other musicians, as well.
Then, this past year, I started thinking about him again. While training a Pandora station, it started to serve up Petty’s songs, and I remembered how much I loved them. I began to read things about his life and found out about his struggle with his ex-wife Jane’s mental illness and his own attempt to cope which ended with him becoming addicted to heroin. I read about the home in Encino where he and Jane raised their children and how it burned down. While they were having it rebuilt, they lived in the house that Xavier Cugat had built for Charo while they were married, which was apparently not a good fit, to hear Petty tell it.
And this led me, during our recent California trip, to telling Alex to keep his eyes open for a gaunt blond guy (though he was less gaunt towards the end) as we went through Encino on our way to Malibu (little did I know that after his divorce from Jane, Petty moved to Malibu). When we got home, I looked up what he was doing and discovered that when we were in Encino, Petty was on tour and that on my birthday, he’d be playing the Hollywood Bowl. Of course, by then I was back in Texas, but . . . it’s the thought that counts?
I also found that the Petty family’s home in Encino (the one that they’d built after the other had burned down) had been for sale until just before our California trip. Not that we could have afforded it even in my wildest dreams, but I had fun looking at the pictures and imagining what I would do with that house (after I brought in a priest or a shaman or something (or both!) in to dispel the negative vibes left over from the whole end-of-the-Pettys’-marriage era).
Alex and I are still planning on taking another California trip relatively soon (like a long weekend in 2019) and a part of me wondered if he would tour and I could take Alex to see him. And that’s never going to happen now.
This has reinforced for me, though, how important it is to do the things you want to do while you can. Like taking Alex to see Weird Al Yankovic during his 2018 tour. I don’t know where, if anywhere, he’s going to be in Texas. He announces the stops on the tour, by my estimate, on Friday, October 13. So just over a week away. Let’s hope I don’t forget to check it out when he does announce it and maybe Alex and I can turn it into a travel destination as well as a concert.