Monday, October 2nd was a shitty day. No, it was a horrible, dark and bleak day. In the midst of trying to write and apply for jobs, I could not turn the news off. The death toll and numbers of those injured was climbing. Las Vegas had become a war zone… yet another example of the world gone mad… another example of why the greatest country on the globe, arguably, and not so clear-cut these days, needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of health insurance and logical gun laws and gun control.
Yes, we need to understand why someone would do this. This is vital as well… To see what signs were missed… or whether or not someone knew something and said nothing. We may not really know why it happened… but we know how… and we clearly know how easy it is to get a gun that no one actually needs… or 42 of them. Enough is enough is enough.
I have been to the Mandalay Bay many times… stayed there many times. I have friends who did an annual charity event there that I volunteered for on several occasions. Ironically, they also did a country music festival… Not this one, but still… “There but for the grace of G-d go I…”
In the midst of all this, my college buddy and oft concert partner Russ calls about Tom Petty… He was clearly shaken… It was before most news stories were out, so I immediately jumped online. No… Not today… Not now. People mock TMZ, but sadly they are usually right… and they were, once again, the first ones to report what was going on.
Just last week, Tom Petty was in town, playing three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. I was pissed at first when the first show announced was on Rosh Hashanah, I skipped Bruce’s book signing a year ago for the same reason. But then they added two more dates and all seemed right with the world. Well… no concert budget forced me to hope I would win tickets through a local station… and I checked in with my usual contacts at another station, hoping maybe an extra pair would pop up.
Russ and I had a conversation before last Monday’s show about possibly going, but he and I had seen Petty on June 11, 2013 when he did his amazing residency at the Fonda Theatre. You can read my post on that show here. That was a 1200 person venue! I mean we were right there! We had seen him in the old Forum… when Bob Dylan came out… and in Chicago. Plus… the Bowl can be a pain in the ass… and while it is historic and amazing, it can also be a clusterfuck of 18,000 people, and a curfew that cuts set lists short.
I will regret that decision for a long time to come. Yes, who knew. Who knew the last Eagles tour would be the last with Glenn Frey? All of my regrets and missed opportunities start to play in my head… David Bowie, Prince, Roy Orbison, Gregg Allman… shows I could have gone to…
I had met Petty, along with Howie Epstein in 1993, at The Troubadours Of Folk Festival on the campus of UCLA. Thanks to David Wild for that amazing opportunity. I have a signed ticket stub from that show… Tom Petty, along with Roger McGuinn and Arlo Guthrie, and though they all signed over each other, Petty is pretty clear, in the black Sharpie.
Damn The Torpedoes was my first Petty record… and to this day, it is one of the few albums I would call perfection, song to song. It reminds me of a specific time and place… Glen Rock, New Jersey… 1979… But it is also timeless… It moves with me… grows with me…
That’s why music is so essential. It is why artists become such a vital part of our lives. It is why we cry when they pass. Why we feel so lost. It is why we feel at all, and feel so deeply. I know some people don’t understand the pain… the sorrow we feel, as if we lost a friend or member of out family.
I’ll never forget yelping in pain and anguish when my brother called to tell me Clarence Clemons passed away. I was out to dinner with my parents and had to literally walk away from the table and out onto the street. At first they were horrified, thinking it was a real family member… then they were a bit surprised and dismayed that I would react so strongly to someone I had never met and really did not know. But I did know Clarence… just as I knew Bowie and Frey and Prince… and Petty. The only one of these I actually met was Petty… but that is NOT how I knew him.
I knew him for the music. I knew him from the common humanity and understanding we seemed to share… from the poetry, the lyrics and the notes. The chords and the chorus… the bridge and the riff. I knew him because he sung things I thought, and answered questions I wrestled with. That is art… that is music.
Petty’s music has been with me for almost 40 years. He has been an almost constant companion since I was a teen… In high school, in college, in the car, on road trips… blasting from the house… bringing me up when I needed to learn, or relearn to fly… reminding me to listen to my heart… be patient because the waiting was the hardest part… and wondering how I was going to run down a dream.
And yet today, I could barely listen to the radio. Knowing why Petty was being played was too much to bare. A sigh… a deep breath… none of it was enough to make it stop… to halt the revealing reality. In my brain I thought maybe I could wish it away… If I stop listening and watch the news it won’t be real.
I mean the news was all over the place… He was… he wasn’t… he will be. But as naive as we would like be as adults, we cannot stop it… Time, music, the show… it all goes on.
There is that moment when you hear a chunk of songs by an artist and feel a sense of dread. It’s not Two For Tuesday… It’s not Triple Play Thursday… It’s not Roll The Dice… Oh no… What happened??? Why are they playing so many of his/her/their songs???
The idea of being found unconscious means you were alone… means no one had a chance to save you. That haunts me a bit… haunts me a lot. For his last minutes, and for any of ours.
As I was driving my daughter home, and tears started once again, I told her that I felt bad for her, because as good as some of the artists of her generation may be, the odds of them still being here and vital 40 years from now was a long shot. I told her how much Tom’s music meant to me… How much it got me through. How he was a part of me. And my daughter is a music person. I know she gets it.
But now, as so often happens, music that gave me nothing but joy will be tinged with sadness, heartbreak and loss. Maybe for a few moments I’ll be lost… back in that innocence… purity… peace and calm… but then I’ll want to go back in time, like I do now. Go to more shows… go to the Bowl… stop time to get him help… to make it not happen… because right now all I can think is Nooooooooo! This cannot be.
We all have soundtracks… we all have songs that accompanied a first kiss… a first love… a first heartbreak… a first dance… a birth… a wedding… a death. Music has that power… and those who make the music, seemingly make it just for us. At least that is how we feel about the great ones.
I should have gone to the show at the Bowl… obviously now… but for me the bottom line was a need to conserve funds. I was being responsible… and luckily, I had seen TP & The Heartbreakers several times. It doesn’t take away the immediate sting and pain and loss, but… we cannot dwell and live with regret… Life is too short, too unpredictable… Clearly.
But I realized when you don’t have a lot of money and you’re young, you want things. When you don’t have a lot of money and you’re a bit older, you want experiences… those shared moments in time… those special events that will stay with you for a lifetime. And you miss them deeply when they pass you by. Concerts are a big one, and it hurts when I have to miss a show. Obviously I assumed he’d be back… that this was not the end of the tour… the road… the album…
At the time, as much as I wanted to be there, I was okay with missing it. There’d be others…
In this world… in these days… in any days… that is not a sure thing. Nothing is.
So let us sit with the pain… sit with the loss… sit with the music…
In the dark… headsets on… taking the whole library and output in. It’s astounding… the solo stuff… the duets… The Heartbreakers… The Traveling Wilburys… So much. So much amazing and incredible music.
And then… slowly, let us stand… and sway… and dance… and sing… and celebrate once again. Let us be thankful for what we DID HAVE… what we DO HAVE…
But yes, let us fully realize that it will never again be “just the normal noises in here”…