Tom Petty

The Soundtrack of our Lives

by Chris Ingalls

3 October 2017

Photo: Sam Jones (Warner Bros. Records) 

Tom Petty was a superstar, adored by millions, and was selling out arenas right until the very end. But I think people took him for granted.

He wasn’t exactly your typical current-day celebrity. He was 66 years old, and his first album came out in the mid-‘70s. Not exactly reality TV show fodder. And yet I guarantee that the Facebook timelines of about 90 percent of the people who read this are positively flooded with posts bemoaning Petty’s passing.

His appeal was pretty simple: he was a prolific and vastly talented songwriter whose appeal spans generations. And he made it all seem so easy. There was nothing terribly complicated about his music—it was solid, meat-and-potatoes rock ‘n’ roll, informed by his idols: the Byrds, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. So much of Petty’s music (aided by his faithful backing band, the Heartbreakers) was filtered through so many older greats, and the result was unmistakably Petty. Passionate, urgent, occasionally relaxed (no doubt due to some herbal assistance), heartland rock delivered with his inimitable, Dylanesque Southern drawl.

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