From Gainesville, Florida to stages around the world, Tom Petty was intertwined in the very fabric that made up rock and roll, and the soundtrack that made up our lives. He didn’t just write songs; he created memories. He used music to make the intangible tangible. And through his lyrics, he proved that there was nothing as poetic as the simplicity of life.
His songs stood for something and meant everything. He didn’t just show us how to fly; he made us believe that it was in us all along. He didn’t just show us how to be free; he made us believe that we were free all along. His songs were as much a part of us as we were a part of them.
Tom Petty didn’t just write songs.
Modern Records co-founder Paul Fishkin was a fan of Petty’s longer than he knew him. The two met during the time that Jimmy Iovine was producing albums for both Petty and Stevie Nicks. Paul and Jimmy strongly supported the idea of a Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty collaboration on each of their projects. And out of that came the classic “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Paul speaks fondly of Petty’s talent and legacy. “I loved his writing and was so moved by his songs. I was just a huge fan. In my opinion, he was one of the top 3 or 4 writers in that era of songwriters and performers. His band was uncomplicated. He just had the right guys who completely understood what they needed to do to get the best out of his songs. They were magical in that sense. There were a lot of bands that were self- indulgent and a lot of bands overperformed. What Tom and the Heartbreakers had was magical. They were a true American band. Their roots came out of R&B and all the great early rock from the ’50s, and then influenced by Dylan and the Birds and all that. So they integrated all those wonderful American elements. Their taste was immaculate. They were truly respectful of their roots and reflected them in a beautiful way. Tom took that to a whole other level. He had that slight punkish side to him too, the edgy punk side to him that he was able to integrate. It’s not easy to do. He just tapped a little into that whole thing, but he did it in an honest way. He wasn’t calculated. He was just a great writer. And he allowed those influences to sort of come into his world, his life, and his art. He wrote about them, manifested them, and performed it in a way that was just really honest. And grasping the times in a way that was powerful and transcended just doing pop music. He was a poet. He was brilliant and down to earth, and he was hip enough and cool enough to do it in a way that you felt that he really understood what was going on.”
Through working together, Nicks and Petty struck up a friendship that would span decades. Paul explains the unique connection the two icons had. “It just started out from respect for each other’s talents. They both sort of came from the same world of artists creating their art, and not being intimidated or succumbing to the needs of the record label and compromising their music because of that. They both were very strong-minded in that regard, which of course I loved and respected. The seed of their relationship was in strong mutual respect for each of their talents, that was the essence of it. And then it grew into a friendship. They were creating on their own terms, surrounded by people who respected that and allowed that.”
From the Epics, to Mudcrutch, to the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty redefined himself over and over again, yet stayed so utterly loyal to the artist who captured the world’s heart in the first place. He tapped into the essence of what makes us all human and transcended race and gender to make music that spoke to us all. From “You Don’t Know How It Feels” to “Learning to Fly,” from “Won’t Back Down” to everyone’s anthem “Free Fallin’”- Tom Petty made you feel like you could take the most wonderful four minutes of your life and make it last forever. His songs were more than lyrics and melodies; they were road trips and backyard BBQ’s, high school football games and slumber parties. They were sneaking out at midnight in your parents’ car, picking up your best friend, and driving wherever the wind took you. A Tom Petty song made you happy to be alive because it made you feel alive.
Most importantly, Tom Petty understood the importance of creating something that would live on long after him. “I’m just trying to make good quality music, ’cause I do realize this music is going to be around much longer than me. I do know that now. If I’m gonna get it together to go make a record, I want it to be something that does feel timeless and honest.” (Billboard, 2005)
Every line, every note, every word, will forever be a testament to the talent, legacy, and truth that is and always will be Tom Petty.