When I left high school, I had no idea what I was doing. Most don’t, but I was truly lost. To top it all off, I started my post-high school life by moving with my parents to a city 1000 km away from where I grew up. No friends, no job, nothing going on, and my whole life in front of me. Yet instead of looking at that as some kind of positive, I instead felt stared down by it, and I was doing nothing but blinking and shuddering in front of its gaze.
I missed my friends, and I missed my old life, because I couldn’t think of a way to start a new one; probably because I was 18, and late blooming to the extreme.
At some point in the early stages of this time period, I bought a 2 CD collection of hits by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers titled Through the Years. This group of 34 songs, most of which I had never heard before, was a true watershed moment. This was before I had even begun to think about being a writer, but what these songs did was tap into the emotions that I would later use to write anything at all: hope, love, rebellion, pain, alienation, wanderlust, knowledge that even the losers get lucky sometimes, and a deep appreciation of Stevie Nicks.
From the slow burn of Breakdown, to the angst of I Need to Know, to the late career stuff off Full Moon Fever, these were great songs, and I listened to both disks endlessly. I would listen to certain songs over and over again, in the way that only young people can, where it feels like what you’re listening to is teaching you something, and you want to know what it is so bad that you study every tiny sound and echo on every song that lights up your head.
Within a few months, I managed to somehow cobble together a frail plan to move out of my parent’s place and back to where we had moved all that way from. I would be arriving in the dead of an Alberta winter, and things were going to be far from easy. I was going to be out on my own for the first time in my life, and I think Tom Petty had something to do with the push to do it. Of course, he can’t be blamed for it not working out later on when I had to limp back to the parental fold. Regardless, in that time alone I put rubber to the road on a life of my own, with first loves of my own, with everything up to me, and the whole world balking a little in our ongoing staring contest.
All while Tom Petty played on in my headphones.
Of course, as life moves on, your tastes move on too, and you forget those formative bands a little bit. Today, with the terrible news about Tom’s health, the radio station here in town played nothing but his music for hours, and it was while listening to all of these old songs and sounds, that the old feelings came back: memories of youth starting to turn into something else.
The verdict isn’t in yet, and Tom Petty is still on this mortal coil for now, but the situation looks as dire as can be. However, in as clichéd of phrasing as I can muster, I can truly say that Tom Petty isn’t going anywhere, because he’s left enough behind to live forever.
Thanks Tom, I needed the push.