Keeping in mind Tom Petty, an initial American badass

Last Christmas, my partner offered me Total Excess, a book of photographs by Michael Zagaris. It’s a pretty uninspiring collection of stock-quality rock photos, but one picture made me linger: Tom Petty, on the balcony of San Francisco’s Miyako Hotel in the late ’70s. He’s leaning against the wall and throwing some hip, thumbs hooked on the waistband of his slim jeans. That feathery hair is caught completely the breeze, and that singular mouth– that rubbery, Cheshire maw– looks loaded and primed for damage. What struck me most, though, wasn’t the image’s colossal coolness. It’s that, in some way, I ‘d forgotten Petty was a total badass.

When Petty dropped dead previously this week, we were all surprised, and not simply by the horrific news still unfolding from the night before. In addition to the shock and the unhappiness, there was genuine guilt surging through my Facebook feed, like we ‘d just lost an old friend we had not hired years. We ‘d all had that moment with Damn the Torpedoes, however then Minor ended up being the most constant, unpretentious, least self-important rock star in history, and we observed him a little less as time went on. “His music was everywhere,” one buddy published. “So I took him for granted.”

Recalling, he was never not there: the Stevie Nicks duet (“Stop Dragging My Heart Around”), the string of MTV classics (have Gen-Xers ever really recuperated from the cake-cutting minute in “Do not Happen Here No More”?), the Dylan trips, the Traveling Wilburys, the mega-selling omnipresence of Moon Fever, his first album sans Heartbreakers. “American Lady” turned evergreen, scoring whatever from Fast Time at Ridgemont High to Silence of the Lambs. It likewise motivated “Last Nite,” the very first single from The Strokes, who earned Petty’s respect by admitting they ‘d flat ripped it off. “That made me laugh aloud,” Petty informed Wanderer. “I was like, ‘OK, helpful for you.'”

If Petty’s influences are easy to trace– since I didn’t truly pay attention to The Byrds up until 1990, you can understand why my preliminary response was, “They sound just like Tom Petty!”– determining his impact on others is harder, just because it’s so huge. The ’90s oozed with Petty-ites. The Gin Blossoms and Soul Asylum. Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock. Do not forget Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams and their alt-country ilk, practically whatever that’s come out of Nashville in the past two decades, the really presence of The War on Drugs. Even punks like Paul Westerberg tipped their hats. Prior to R.E.M. became the embodiment of crossover integrity, Petty proved you might make ridiculous videos and have enormous radio hits without offering your soul. It assisted that he didn’t take himself too seriously. Anyone who viewed The Larry Sanders Program understood Petty had a fantastic funny bone.

Back in 1979, when Zagaris went to photo Petty for Wanderer, he brought along a portfolio of other acts he ‘d shot: the Stones, The Who, Lou Reed, Zeppelin, Bowie, Clapton, Dylan. While looking through it, Petty said, “Wow, hopefully at some point we’ll remain in there, too.” It goes without saying that Petty earned his seat in the pantheon. You have actually probably got a Petty tune stuck in your head today. And if the man’s badass-ness slips your mind, that’s okay. Petty didn’t desire us calling him a badass, anyway. Which, naturally, just made him more of one.

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