The End Of The Rainbow Is Always A Long Ride : R.I.P Tom Petty

There are a few musicians that I connect with on a very personal level. The music feels like walking through the front door on a particularly lousy day at work, and the warmth of home melts all those bad vibes away. A certain song takes me back to a car ride in the summer of 1983 to my grandma’s house for a day of fishing. Or an album puts me in the dead of winter with the blue, Midwest air freezing my lungs on first contact. There are a few artists that take me to certain places when I hear them and Tom Petty has always been one of those artists.

Though, it took me years before I truly appreciated the man.

As a kid he was a soundtrack in the car, much like Steve Miller, The Eagles, Foreigner, and Styx. He was part of AOR soundtrack of my childhood. Most of that stuff I hear nowadays and I just want to turn it off immediately. Steve Miller is an exception, as is Tom Petty. “American Girl” “Listen To Your Heart”, “Even The Losers”, “Refugee”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, and “Breakdown” were always welcomed ear candy when I was a kid. There was something inviting in the songs of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Something that felt familiar. When I saw pictures of Tom Petty he reminded me of the gaunt, stick figures I’d see at family reunions. He looked like the smoking long hairs I called relatives. He looked as if he should be in the basement playing pool and drinking a Strohs with my mom and dad and uncles. He just seemed like a dude that would show me a couple bar chords and let me swig some of that half warm Strohs.

Though I wasn’t buying up Petty albums growing up he was always around, making weird videos I’d catch at friends houses or playing on the local classic rock station 97.7 out of Elkhart, Indiana or 95.3 out of Niles, Michigan. Then my freshman year of high school he released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. Hearing songs like “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin'”, “A Face In The Crowd”, and “Yer So Bad” were like a revelation. They were like this reinvention of the middle-aged rock and roll guy I’d heard for so many years in the backseat. Petty’s Wilburys collaboration created this long standing working relationship and friendship with ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Lynne gave Petty a new sonic imprint; he brightened the drums, brought the vocals front and center, and gave Petty a spotlight on his more personal songwriting style.

He made Petty cool to the kids.

As much as I loved Full Moon Fever, it wasn’t until 1994s Wildflowers that I completely fell for Tom Petty. That album to me feels like a sonic work of art. It sits among my all time favorite records as this regal musical piece. It was well-aged the day it was released, chock full of absolute masterpieces. To me, this feels like the record where Tom Petty found himself. Yes, even after nearly 20 years of making music, gold albums, and number one singles it wasn’t until this Rick Rubin-produced record did Petty find Petty. There’s a looseness on this album that evokes visions of bearded guys sitting around a studio with smoke(of the cigarette and “Mary Jane” variety) swirling around as amps buzz, basses thump, and drums groove. The atmosphere of those Lynne records, however great they were, were very tight and uniform. There seemed to be no room for letting the tape run and see what would happen. “Honey Bee” and “Cabin Down Below” under those conditions might’ve come out sounding pinched, or worse yet twee. Here they’re gruff and unruly, just the way the Lord intended.

There isn’t one song on this album that I don’t love. It brings back the winter of 1994. It was cold, but the inside of my little Nissan pick up was warm and inviting thanks to songs like “You Wreck Me”, “It’s Good To Be King”, “To Find A Friend”, “Hard On Me” and “A Higher Place”. This album also inspired in me the need to create myself. Even more than Rubber Soul or Village Green Preservation Society, Wildflowers songwriting and sonic stamp made me want to make songs like those. From both writing and engineering standpoints this album was that bar I needed to reach. It sounded like an album you’d find in some dusty record store bin from 1972, not 1994. It was well aged, much like the vintage Fenders and Rickenbackers used to make the record.

I think the song that hits me hardest on this album and always has is “Only A Broken Heart”. There’s something very fragile about it that feels like a punch to the gut every time I hear it. From Petty’s nearly whispered, gently delivered vocals to the mellotron to his acoustic strumming it hits all the right emotional notes for me. There’s loneliness and pain being given out in dollops of musical beauty. Petty sings lines like “I know the place where you keep your secrets/Out of the sunshine, down in a valley” and “I know your weakness, you’ve seen my dark side/The end of the rainbow is always a long ride” with almost the innocence of a child. I think this song is an absolute masterpiece, and it connects me to Tom Petty forever.

There’s not much more I can say. I loved Tom Petty as a songwriter, singer, and musician. If I’d known him I’m sure I would’ve loved him as a friend, too. Mentor, even. He is, was, and always will be one of the greats in the pantheon of rock and roll. So long, Tom Petty. Thank you for everything.

And the days went by like paper in the wind

Everything changed, then changed again

It’s hard to find a friend,

It’s hard to find a friend…

If you haven’t seen the doc Runnin’ Down A Dream by Peter Bogdanovich do yourself a favor and clear about 4 hours for it. It’s the ultimate history on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, umm,…I mean Princess Leia was my first crush. I saw Star Wars in 1978 when it had come back to play in theaters after a monster run the year before. I was 4 years old and the movie made an indelible mark on my psyche. At that young of age I felt the gamut of emotions one doesn’t usually come to understand until much later in life. The whole idea of the “damsel in distress” thing hadn’t completely sunk in to me prior to this point, but after seeing Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan, C3P0, and R2D2’s gallant rescue of the Princess from Alderaan I felt my head open up to a whole other world. But Princess Leia wasn’t some wallflower waiting for some space stud to sweep her off her feet. She was a beautiful and tough-as-nails gal that was in the thick of a fight that may very well kill her, but she didn’t care.

dsc05120Carrie Fisher played Princess Leia with both a sly wit and an open heartedness. She came across both as this unattainable beauty and as the girl next door that would come over to babysit you when your parents went out for drinks on Friday night. Star Wars was an obsession of mine(I know join the club, right?) from that first viewing of Star Wars in the summer of 1978 till 1984 when GI Joe and Transformers took more precedent and real estate in my closet and brain. While the swashbuckling adventures, the spaceships, laser guns, lightsabers, Jedi mind tricks, and sensory overload battle scenes were enough to stick around for, it was the characters that kept me wanting. They kept me emotionally invested in the story. Carrie Fisher was a big part of that for me. I wouldn’t say I obsessed over her, but yeah, I obsessed over her. I was part of the Star Wars Fan Club. I remember getting patches, the famed ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ movie poster, and my most prized possession, an autographed 5×7 photo of Carrie Fisher in Hoth attire. It was signed “Galactically Yours, Carrie Fisher”. My mom gave me a little gold frame to put it in and it sat on my desk for years. Of course, it wasn’t really signed personally by her, but it was the thought that counted. I also remember being quite jealous of Paul Simon for marrying her.

I tried to watch everything Carrie Fisher was in after Star Wars. I watched The Blues Brothers on TV and when she appeared as Belushi’s ex trying to kill him all I wanted to see was her. Then at the end when he leaves her behind all I could think was “You fool!!” She was also in Under The Rainbow with Chevy Chase. I sat through that at 8 years old because of her. The Man With One Red Shoe, Hannah and her Sisters, The ‘Burbs, and Drop Dead Fred were all movies I was excited to see Carrie Fisher in. Hell, even as an adult I was thrilled to see her in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. 

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Watercolor by Shane Darin Page

Of course, Fisher was far more than just a Princess in a galaxy far, far, away. She was human with human problems. Addiction, mental health issues, and growing up with famous parents can’t be all that easy. But she also possessed this amazing mind and ability to write beautifully. She was very candid about her life and wrote about it freely. Her wit and smarts shined through in her books and in her appearances in 30 Rock, Weeds, Robot Chicken, and The Big Bang Theory. She was a person not to be trifled with, possessing a Dorothy Parker-like razor wit and though she did suffer from typecasting from Star Wars, she never let it control her and stop her from doing what she wanted.

I may not be that little kid with butterflies in his stomach every time Carrie Fisher, umm….I mean Princess Leia appears on the screen, but I’m still pretty devastated at the thought that she’s gone. We’re lacking in sly wit and open heartedness as of late. I hope wherever the Princess is, she’s found some peace.