Shall I talk about the top twenty 2017 tweets of President Trump? How about Alvin Kamara’s awesome Santa Cleats which have resulted in a fine by the NFL, delivered in an envelope to the New Orlean’s Saints running back? It looks like those 32 yards he ran for in the Christmas Eve game are going to be the most expensive of his career. Or maybe I should dive right in to Trump’s interview with the NYT in which he says that the Mueller probe:

… makes the country look bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position.

No? How about if instead I talk just for a moment about a wonderful, very talented, very hard-working artist who suddenly left us in September.

Tom Petty.

It was a warm snap, in I think December, in 1979, and I was jogging past the house where the cool people lived in college. The windows to Andy’s room were open and the thunder of Stan Lynch’s opening drum roll turned my head as the opening chords (F#minor, D, and E) of Refugee poured out the open window. I swiveled and kept jogging up the path, through the front door, and up the steps into Andy’s room, and we sat and listened to Tom and the Heartbreakers’ early masterpiece. More were to come of course, but this was the first time when it felt like they really could do anything they set their minds to.

Over the previous year, Andy had made me listen to their first two albums, as he would shake his head and say “I can’t believe they’re not huge!” So that mild December afternoon in 79 was like a confirmation of all the expectations that the few early TP fans in our circles had nourished.

By the time I belatedly saw their 2008 Super Bowl half-time show on Youtube, it was a year or two after the event. Sorry, I haven’t followed Super Bowls religiously for a long time. I watched the opening chords of American Girl and I started weeping. But they were tears of gratitude for all the wonderful music Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have given us. And just to remind everyone, Tom Petty was very much alive and kicking when I got mushy watching the halftime show on Youtube.

I’ll let music critics argue over who the greatest rock bands are. TP and the Heartbreakers were one of the best. Try playing Mike Campbell’s solo in American Girl. It was twenty years ahead of its time. It took punk, post-punk, 80’s big hair, grunge and post-grunge, for guitar solos to catch up to what he did back in 1976. Try playing the guitar-piano combination in the chorus of Here Comes My Girl. Fascinatingly, Tom said in the VHS series on great albums that you had to come from the South to play the riff that floats behind Petty’s vocals and Stan Lynch’s backup vocals.

Try playing that magic handful of chords that Tom plays in Learning to Fly. Try to get that beautiful ache in just your rythm guitar playing. Now try to do it on a Rickenbacker. Not easy, huh? Now sing please.

De Tocqueville writes about the optimism and confidence that he found that women in America were raised into. It’s there in the opening lines to Tom’s song American Girl:

Well she was an American girl, raised on promises

But that would be to ascribe political ends to Tom Petty’s music, which he would probably laugh at a little. I have no idea who he voted for. I don’t care who he voted for. I have no idea what he yelled at his screen when somebody said something on CNN, or MSNBC. Or Fox.

Maybe he read Faulkner. Maybe he had to read Carson McCullers’ a tree a rock a cloud in high school, the way I did. Maybe he was haunted by that story, the way I was. Likely not. Because he was someone who had his own stories to tell and who had the drive , talent and the need to tell them. And that drive and talent would produce a gem of an artist that could only have come from one country.

America and the world are better for Tom Petty’s music. Happy New Year.

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