As I write this, Tom Petty is dying.
Well, I guess that’s sort of a blanket statement. As I write this, everyone is dying at some rate.
But earlier today, Julie and I saw the news reported that Tom Petty was dead. Apparently he’s not. Yet.
Meanwhile at least 50 people are dead, and 150 more injured, thanks to a crazy white dude who shot the crowd at a country music concert out the window of his upscale but not deluxe resort in Las Vegas (my kind of town, usually). Why a guest was allowed to bring in a small armory of weapons is beyond me, and why room service didn’t report that he had a gun on a tripod by his window, I also don’t know. But hey, old white guys, am I right?
In “Fight Song,” Marilyn Manson (yeah, the older, more industrial song with that name where he doesn’t have a lot of fight left in him, exactly) says “the death of one is a tragedy/the death of millions is just a statistic.”
I’m not AS cynical here, but I didn’t know the people who died in Las Vegas (I don’t think– I’m not sure all the names have been released). I cannot memorialize them, and most of what I have to say about their deaths is about how the current President is actually causing this stuff and we aren’t more safe.
But I have some really intimate memories of Tom Petty’s music. My mother used to love listening to “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys. I once chased pigeons down on Market Square. But my most vibrant memory of Tom Petty is of the song “Wildflowers.”
That CD came out in November of 1994. I graduated about five months later. That was as time in my life that was filled with great upheaval, as I think it is for most people. But perhaps the most disturbing– or beautiful–part of that time in my life was knowing that my high school ties were breaking and I was seeing so many people for the last time. We all said we’d keep in touch, but I knew the truth. A number of my “closest” friends from high school have been ghosts in my head since we graduated.
But I remember the day after the last of our graduation parties, a typical Tuesday in Indiana. I took my “girlfriend?” to Glen Miller Park, and we parked my car in one of my favorite spots along the creek that runs along the back side of the park, back where most people don’t go and where there’s ironically (or iron-ronically) an iron water spring. We got out of the car and lay on the grass, on a blanket, looking up at the clouds, our feet in the cool water. It was early Indiana summer. The sky was sparkling blue and the clouds were that sort of puffy white that you imagine is spun sugar delicately floating in the sky.
I had no fucking idea what I was going to do with my life, as I was in the middle of reacting to chaos on every side. I was planning to go to IU (which I did, for a bit) but I knew that I was needed back in Richmond and that no one else was going to step up if I left. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the girl I was in a new relationship with (I really never did figure that out– her church forced her to stop speaking to me because of my “beliefs”). I wasn’t sure that high school had taught me anything (as much as I’m lukewarm on Paul Simon, for about six months I wrote in a journal that had “when I think back on all the shit I learned in high school/it’s a wonder I can think at all” on it).
But that particular lazy day, lying in the grass, I recall vibrantly closing my eyes and singing along, from start to finish, with “Wildflowers.” I opened my eyes to find my companion softly crying.
She’d never felt “free.” I guess that lyric plunged deep into her.
We’d spend a number of months just killing time together, nothing that serious. When her parents told her she couldn’t see me anymore because of her church, I went to the place where I knew she was interning, and I left that Tom Petty CD under her windshield wiper.
I hope she, and Tom, find peace. You belong somewhere you’ll feel free.
As for me, I’m still running down a dream. Working on a mystery. Going wherever it leads.