Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Heartbroken: Tom Petty, RIP

4 Oct

Tom Petty in a vanWith all the literal disasters that have happened in the last month – three hurricanes, an earthquake, the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas – it seems almost silly to be bereft over the loss of a rock musician.

And yet … Tom Petty seeped into all corners of my life. Sure, everyone has to go sometime, but his death came so abruptly without warning, it’s like the air has been sucked out of me. Jeez, I just saw his 40th anniversary concert in July. Even as he’d intimated this could be his and the Heartbreakers’ last large-scale tour, he also admitted he didn’t like to stay still and probably would renege on that vow. He had promised to release another album of songs from Wildflowers – his best era, in my opinion – and maybe do concerts in which he’d play the entire thing. He had so much more ahead of him. He was having such a good time.

TPATH photo - 1979

Petty became my reference point for all other music: you can connect him to practically any other major act in two steps. He recorded with two Beatles; he backed Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; he shared the stage with everyone from Bo Diddley to Eric Clapton to Prince. His SiriusXM Buried Treasure show championed artists I now love: Lucinda Williams, Big Joe Turner, Ann Peebles, Louis Jordan, the Shangri-Las. He had incredible taste, which was a remarkable contrast to the bloated acts that clogged the 1970s when he came up in the business. And he kept up his songwriting chops throughout his career. Someone I read years ago pointed out that every one of his albums rated at least 7 out of 10; that was as true of Hypnotic Eye as his eponymous debut.

He also had a sense of humor. Witness his appearance on The Larry Sanders Show trying to clock Greg Kinnear and Clint Black:

 

And a flair for animation V/O:

 

There are any number of respectful obituaries that list Petty’s hits and talk about his talent for championing the underdog in his songs and his fights with his labels. Thing is, he was rarely included in critics’ lists of the “best” American rock musicians: that is an honor bestowed on Elvis, Dylan, Springsteen, and possibly Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or other pioneers. That is probably because he was less an innovator than a craftsman. He and that insanely talented band of his, the Heartbreakers, could play just about anything, original songs or covers, from muscular chord-based rock to devastating ballads:

After that night in Vegas/ And the hell that we went through
We went down swingin’

Throughout the last 24 hours, I’ve received a lot of genuine condolences from friends and coworkers. My daughters have been checking on me often, offering support and shoulders to sigh on. My elder daughter pointed out what a privilege it is to connect deeply to an artist’s work during his lifetime, especially since he inspired me to create my own. (This blog and Love and Other B-Sides would not be here without me falling head first into his catalog.) I’ve also gotten some solace from listening to SiriusXM’s “wake” on his channel, with famous fans (Cameron Crowe, John Fogerty) and regular folks calling in to share what Tom Petty meant to them.

Means to them.

Means to us.

Means to me.

This is going to take a long time to get over, folks. Thank God we have each other.

See you on the flip side …

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#50isthenew50: Planning ahead for my musical well-being

28 Sep

To get ready for my 50th birthday this weekend, I wrote my will. (Yeah, I’m taking this whole aging thing really well …)

Image Sources: instructables, naarsang.mihanblog , theverybesttop10 (via sadtohappyproject.com)

Image Sources: instructables, naarsang.mihanblog , theverybesttop10 (via sadtohappyproject.com)

The do-it-yourself will-writing software provided an option to do specific bequests. This made me realize how few things I own would be of any interest to anyone else, least of all my children. For instance, I have a hefty CD collection which I modestly believe showcases the best music since music began. But my kids have no use for them: in this age of digital downloads, streaming and cloud-based music, they are better used as iridescent DIY craft materials. (I plan to donate them to my local library instead, but that assumes they’ll still have a device that can play them. By then, the Cloud will probably be sentient and download Blue Ivy Carter and North West’s latest hit directly to our eardrums.)

Another element of estate planning is having an advance directive/ health care power of attorney. This not only outlines what level of medical intervention you want but also identifies your health care advocate – the person who’ll honor your wishes and speak for you if you are incapacitated. (Get this done, friends. It’s well worth the peace of mind for you and your family. If you live in Michigan, my employer’s My Voice, My Choice template can guide you through the process. End of PSA.)

This got me thinking: who will be my musical advocate?

I’ve seen what it’s like at my mother’s assisted living facility, which is one of the best in the world. The staff plays music in the common rooms to help stimulate memory and group interaction. They try to pick tunes that are familiar to the largest number of people depending on age group, usually aiming for what was popular during the residents’ young adulthood. My mother’s era would therefore be defined by a lot of Broadway, big bands and Mitch Miller-approved sing-alongs. The last time I visited her, though, Elvis Presley was in the air, as the Greatest Generation moves on and the Baby Boomers move in. I had to wonder if this made her antsy – she never struck me as an Elvis fan – or if she was grateful for the break from Lawrence Welk.

There’s no easy way to accommodate everyone’s personal taste, even when you’re in a room full of mentally acute adults. (As my good friend Gail says, ” I would like to have some control over what I have to hear in the GYM, let alone when I’m lying in a bed in a nursing home someday.”) It’s hard to pin down taste for one person, much less a group. Say you like Elvis: does that mean the Sun Records era, gospel, Hollywood hits, the comeback album or the late career Las Vegas material – or a little bit of everything? You may cringe every time you hear “Can’t Help Falling In Love” because that was your song with your first girlfriend, and she broke your heart. Or, you liked “Heartbreak Hotel” but were more obsessed with calypso, if truth be told.

These days, we have access to every song ever recorded. Our favorite songs cross generations  and genres, so it’ll be nearly impossible to know what makes an old heart sing just by looking at their birth date. Just because a song was popular when you were in high school doesn’t mean you liked it, either. That’s why I’m worried that years and years from now, I’ll have a hankering to hear Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s version of “That’s All Right” instead of the one made famous by The King …

… but since I graduated high school in 1983, they’ll assume all I want to hear is Madonna and Duran Duran. (I’ll probably keep whacking people with my cane until they stop that nonsense.)

Until some genius software company develops a template for a Musical Power of Attorney, I will have to do what I’ve done all along: trust my children. I’ve raised them to know good music when they hear it, and I’m sure they’ll keep my musical wits sharp and evolving throughout my next half-century. If and when I’m no longer able to spin my own iPod dial or change the satellite radio station, I know I will be in good hands … even if they turn my well-crafted CD collection into disco balls.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. I started this blog soon after I turned 45. Five years and 100 posts later, I am still at it, in no small part because of regular readers like you. As I blow out the 50 candles on my cake, one of my wishes is you continue to enjoy what you read and keep commenting. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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