Death & I have a fine relationship. Not sure whether this is because we don’t have much of one or that we’re synched up, our menses of the heart on the quiet lunar tip. People die, I’m gonna die, and that sucks mostly because I’m certain that I’m gonna come back as someone or something tragically less privileged and lucky, in a much, much shittier time. A milk cow in North Dakota; a Giza Pyramid laborer/slave. A peg-boy on a Viking ship. It’s gonna suck. But I won’t know the difference, as I don’t know what I was before I occupied Me. People die and I’m sorry and I will die and some people will be sorry. But the world will get on. But sonuvabitch it’s been a whole week and I’m still misting (read: fully precipitating) daily to Tom Petty tracks.
Alright. One could argue that I did that before he died. And one also may suggest that perhaps I shouldn’t have his catalogue loop-shuffling on my iPod in the week following his death because that’s a.) pedestrian and 2.) of course you’re gonna emote if you listen to the fresh dead, shithead. I don’t know. This one’s big and bad and beautiful. It sucked when Prince died. When Whitney Houston died, I took it weird, probably mostly because I was in need of something to take weird about. A buddy of mine from High School (and beyond) died on September 29th from the Grim Reaper in Tom Ford skate shoes that is Oxy the Opioid Epidemic. Albeit, that one is different, a different beast in the grief galaxy, but it is still death, and I can put it into a box: He/she stopped breathing. Now run till you puke. Keep your eyes on the ball, Dummy, your feet moving, don’t get scared, cause there ain’t nothin’ you can do. But then Tom Petty died. And, sure – all the Vitamin H, hi-balls, eight-balls, footballs & speedballs, so on and so forth, weakened his ticker, so yes: it’s not CRAZY. But it fucked me right up – I wanted to hug a stranger (yuck), thank my parents for having me, have a billion drinks (that one I swiftly accomplished), adopt a little baby girl, cry a river in a river, hug my brother a real hug (I needed a hug or to be hugged, clearly), get on a plane - it’s been all of it with him gone. His heart gave out and the simplest of certainties (aside from “free lunch?, fuck you.”) that is Death became bombastic and demonstrative, which is a fitting paradox from the Man who could condense Life into three chords and a one line refrain.
Christmas, ’94. ***Let me just first make clear that it is unanimously understood in my mind that I speak for a small, specific sector of one. The Sudanese child laborer is probably not riding around unemployed (that wasn’t meant to be a joke) on her/his fixed gear bike living by Tom Petty refrains, nor is the poor, pregnant teen-aged girl running across Louisiana state lines (although it all applies somehow, and I think that will be my point?) to get an abortion. I understand that my socio-economic place here affords me the luxury to sulk in or celebrate my oscillating existentialism. Read: I am a Wuss. Now SHUT UP.
Christmas, ’94. The Old Man got me Wildflowers on compact disc. The video for “You Don’t Know How it Feels” had probably come out between the record’s release and Christmas, and as his last top 40 hit, it was all over the radio as well. In the canon of Petty tracks, this tune hovers somewhere near the 75th percentile for me, as he wrote so many perfect songs, you couldn’t help but take them and him for granted, maybe even shrugging it off into the background as an artist “staying in his lane” or some such confused, jealous bullshit. “In his lane”…of writing perfect fucking songs you fucking shit kickers?!? Wilt Chamberlain shot 73% from the field back in ’72-’73. Sam Bradford competed 72% of his passes last year for the Vikings. Single season records for the NBA, NFL (I would run the metrics on peak Serena Williams’ Annual Aces : Career Aces, but with Slams and smaller tournaments, doubles w/ Venus, et al - there’s only so much fake math I can do in a wholly subjective non-argument). 73% & 72% are amazing numbers for a single season. The best. But imagine them doing that…for an entire fourteen and a half year career (I’m comparing studio albums to seasons, Mojo & Hypnotic Eye…and Mudcrutch’s 2, notwithstanding, ½ season for Willbury’s records). Fuck it – I’ll go as far as to say TP’s at 83%. 83% perfect! ***Obviously I have to half that to 41.5% because writing a perfect song is close to impossible and Wilt Chamberlain was the biggest person in the world and as a quarterback, someone’s calling the plays and you need a bitchin’ offensive line to even stay even – I mean, it’s Sam fucking Bradford who holds the record. And, also: I’m not a complete shithead – I dock 50% off of the 41.5% as a nostalgia via grief tax so 20.75% perfect in the studio is still fucking second to none and that’s before I even assume that we can all agree on a 4.25% rebate re: contextual emotion or sequence or sequence of emotions within the record from which the song lives, so at 300 songs (give or take), 25% perfect = 75 PERFECT MOTHERFUCKING SONGS. He’s no Picasso or Jim Brown; he’s no Beyoncè, Paul Molitor or Mozart; Nora Ephron, Lindsay Vonn, Muhammad Ali or Bill Shakespere. He’s Tom Fucking Petty. The greatest athlete of all time.
So I guess that would mean “You Don’t Know How It Feels” is right around perfect. (It’s fucking perfect of course it’s fucking perfect.) For weeks, maybe months, I couldn’t get past that song – and it’s the second track on the record (I did get lost in “Time to Move On” & “You Wreck Me” – “I’ll be the boy in the corduroy pants” making me smile every time, for reasons I still don’t know, but that was as far as I could get before clicking back to track two). And I couldn’t get past “You Don’t Know How It Feels” not because I loved it, but because I didn’t understand it. Dookie had come out earlier that year, and, being an aspiring idiot drummer, Trè Cool was Iverson, Barry Sanders and Gail Devers…he was flashy and fast, he was busy and smooth and he got your fucking attention. That was the point – if you could do it, do it – bigger, faster, louder. And song two on Wildflowers comes in (on A.I.’s pregame mix-tape at Georgetown) with that crescendo’d electric organ note and, ANNNND…kick-kick snare // kick-kick snare // kick-kick snare // kick-kick snare. I didn’t get it.
So I listened again. And again. And again.
(Kick-kick snare // kick-kick snare.)
You don’t know how it feels…
“Yeah, I get it.
no, you don’t know how it feels…
“yeah, no – I heard you.”
…to be meeeeeee-e-eee.
And my brains fell out of my head. The simplest drumbeat coupled with the simplest lyric were also…the greatest drum beat and the GREATEST LYRIC?!?! “Am I Gay?” I thought? then asked “What the fuck does that have to do with this?” then “It doesn’t, you idiot – that’s my point!” So I listened again.
The space. That’s what I didn’t understand at the time. There’s so much beautiful fucking space in that song everybody should just always shut up. It is peerless taste and tact and style and if you watch the video - one carousel-like shot, the Man perfectly uncomfortable (he looks fucking amazing in that thin blue hoodie and that fucking hat), shooting tranquilo-nervous glances off camera, as if in his bones he could truly take it or leave it but always opting for the former…in that moment, in that song, that take, time and space: There went the coolest person we’ll ever see.
Sure – maybe the lyric is obvious. But nobody else could ever pull that off with a wink and a wry smile to skewer your heart. I see a lot of comments on the general picture socials that read: “This is EVERYTHING”, and I don’t know what it means (I kinda know what it means). But I don’t because how can that be EVERYTHING when Tom Petty wrote a few lines on each of those 14 ½ records that actually were. “You don’t know how it feels to be me.” You don’t. And vice versa. And thank fucking God.
Wildflowers was released maybe two years after I threw rotten tomatoes at Jay Rozman and Paul Furlong. I didn’t act alone, but I will go deservedly to hell for that and I DON’T want anyone to try and stop me. I didn’t know how it felt to be them and I apparently didn’t give a shit. But I do. That song didn’t turn me into the Empathizer by any stretch of the imagination – I still fucked up plenty and continue to. But the song came at a time when I started to realize that this shit matters. And not just how people perceived me, but how they felt devoid of my self-serving/sabotaging existence. Who knows if he wrote the lyric as an omnipotent meaning to EVERYTHING but I look at him in that video and I know that he did because I can see that that doesn’t matter. That we don’t have to always understand or be understood and sometimes we just have to shut the fuck up. And listen to the space.
Realistically, I’ll probably come back as some deep, DEEP sea creature – but one of the ones that’s scared all the time. Forever prey. There’s been some hiccups, sure. I could argue that I am hiccupping currently, wondering if it’s a diaphragm malady I didn’t address when I was younger and now it’s old and just Me. Perhaps. However, Christmas ’94, I was eleven and I was this incarnation and knowing that, knowing that I got to live with this record and this Man, at this moment, I can feed you the answer on How it Feels to be Me: It feels pretty fucking good.