Rest in peace, Tom.
How silly it feels—mourning for someone you’ve never known. Yet, that’s exactly what we do. After the twist in that Netflix melodrama. At the end of a John Steinbeck novel. When we see via social media that a figure we didn’t even know we cared about that much has died suddenly.
We mourn because it’s never really about that person. It isn’t about their physical body or their name or their hair color. It’s about us and that feeling they stir in our souls. It’s about knowing that feeling will never be quite the same again now that they’re gone. That golden feeling has been stained with the darkness of knowing you’ve lost them and you weren’t even ready for it.
I never knew or loved Tom Petty as a person. The closest I ever got to him physically was zooming in on a collection of pixels taken from concerts gone by. What I do know and love and feel slightly sick over are the memories.
I first really started paying attention to Tom Petty in college. After that not a single house party soundtrack or a CD burned to accompany our stoned cruises around town were without at least one Petty track. I’m flooded with snippets of memories of belting out his lyrics on karaoke stages and bar stools. That familiar feeling of alcohol turning acquaintances into the best of friends and the next hangover turning them back. I feel sharp, dry grass and cold, weak beer leftover in my bones from the few times I was lucky enough to catch Petty and some variation of his Heartbreakers live.
Probably any artist I listened to during those early college years that seem so golden now could stir these feelings a decade later. But it wasn’t any artist. It was Tom Petty.
I don’t know what comes after this, but I hope he’s among the wildflowers.