I don't know how you feel about your favorite rock stars, songwriters, musical heroes (Tom Petty was all of these things to me), or if you even have any. I feel a little selfish about my musical heroes. I don't really want to read what some pontificating music journalist in Rolling Stone has to say about Tom Petty. I don't want to read what Wikipedia says about Tom Petty or hear the little local news tribute. Maybe it's just too soon, and that will change.
It's so strange to feel so close to someone you've never met; often a public figure. Maybe this is a sign of my obsessiveness (I prefer to call it passion), but I feel close to my musical heroes. I've had the good fortune to meet and even talk with many (see my Rock Star pics photo album on FB), but even that is a strange feeling. Here I am meeting one of my musical heroes and thinking that I know something about them because of their song lyrics, interviews I've read or watched, and being privileged to watch a tiny piece of their life unfold in the public eye. And I do know something about them unless they are a completely insincere artist. But they know nothing about me. Nothing. They know they've touched, moved, affected many people with their music; enough to thankfully make a living doing what they love (which still takes a lot of hard work).
So when one of my musical heroes passes away, it affects me, sometimes very deeply, especially if it was unexpected or horrific. I still cry any time I am reminded about Buddy Holly's death through reruns of the movies about him or mentions of him in songs or news or documentaries. It's almost as if a friend has died: John Lee Hooker, J.J. Cale, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard are just a few that have passed in my lifetime. If I'm fortunate enough to live that long, I'll see every Rolling Stone (well maybe just 4 out of 5), Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson and many more pass on. It's just a little strange to imagine a world without Tom Petty. And I will say that again about others. He was young, just finished a tour, and was working on releasing a "Complete Wildflowers" as well as doing an intimate acoustic tour. Damn, I would have loved to have seen him on that tour.
One thing we do have is a sprawling document across various media formats documenting his life and his music, and our memories. I've seen him 8 or 9 times in Maryland, Philadelphia, D.C., and Seattle. I have those memories. I even met Mike Campbell (Petty's wonderfully creative and simple guitar slinging friend and partner since the beginning) after I was lucky enough to see him drop in on a J.J. Cale show at the Triple Door. He just sat on his amp and noodled along while watching Cale be the master that he was. We also have the memories that bring us together. Your memories help me be a little less selfish and realize that my heroes touch others as deeply as me or in different meaningful ways.
Thank you Tom Petty for all that you've given to me, my friends, and the rest of the world. Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.
And yes, I'm still Learning to Fly. I think I always will be.