Raising a Horn for Tom Petty

Monday morning, as usual, I had the local news on while I was getting ready for work. I was brushing my teeth when I noticed they were playing footage of Tom Petty and thought, “Oh, he must be putting on a benefit concert for hurricane victims or something like that,” because that’s the kind of thing he’d do, or maybe he was going to be at the Austin City Limits music festival coming up soon.

And then I saw the headline at the bottom of the screen and realized that Rockalfheim, the realm of the mighty rock and roll dead, had suddenly and unexpectedly gained another member. Again.

I’ve had a busy week, so it took a while for it to sink in. Tom Petty never inspired the same passion some other musical artists did. On the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band I watched a documentary about how musically complex and brilliant it was. No one would ever make a documentary like that about Tom Petty. After David Bowie and Prince died, the television and internet were full of analyses of their musical genius. Tom Petty wasn’t that kind of musician.

He just wrote good songs that made you happy when you heard them. When I saw him in interviews, he didn’t seem to have a pretentious bone in his body. He talked about how it only took him 30 minutes to write one of his most well-known songs, “Free Fallin,” and about how most of his songs only have four chords anyway, so any beginning guitarist could play them.

When I was a teenager, Tom Petty was “comfort music” for me. My generation’s music was Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. When I was depressed, I’d put on that music to wallow in misery.

But sometimes I didn’t feel like wallowing, so the CD I’d put in was Into the Great Wide Open. My dad got that album when it first came out, and I liked it so much and kept “borrowing” it so much, he let me have it. I still have it.

Since his death, I have seen articles praising Tom Petty for his storytelling ability, and I completely agree. He was a modern day Bard or Skald. Sure, his songs were musically simple, but songs like “Into the Great Wide Open,” feel like the plots of a whole movie or novel. He took well to the MTV era because his songs already evoked so much imagery.

But I think the reason I always found Tom Petty’s music comforting was that his songs felt optimistic, but at the same time acknowledged that life was hard. But just because life is hard doesn’t mean you just give up. You pick yourself up and keep going anyway. Maybe “I Won’t Back Down” is a more famous example, but when I was a kid, I really loved “Learning to Fly.” I remember listening to this song over and over again.

Well some say life will beat you down, break your heart, steal your crown, so I’ve started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.

I haven’t gotten to go to a lot of concerts in my life, but I did get to see Tom Petty back in the early 00’s. The boyfriend I had at the time was more of a heavy metal fan, but he knew I liked Tom Petty, so he surprised me once by getting us tickets to go see him when he played the Coca-Cola Starplex in Dallas. With the possible exception of when I got to see Paul McCartney, it was the most enjoyable concert I’ve been to. We got pretty good seats (unlike when I saw McCartney or the Rolling Stones), and the Wallflowers opened. I didn’t even know that until Jacob Dylan walked out on stage and started singing “One Headlight,” so I was pleasantly surprised to get a bonus band that I liked.

But Tom Petty sure knew how to put on a fun show! The venue was small enough to feel a bit more intimate than the huge stadium I saw in the Stones in. And he did that thing where he turned his songs into a sing-along for everybody.

My favorite part of the concert was when he sang “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” and on cue, he let the whole audience sing the chorus for him.

Let’s get to the point! Let’s roll another joint, and turn the radio LOUD! I’m too alone to be proud, and you don’t know it feels to be me.

That song came out in 1994, and that reminds me of another thing about Tom Petty I noticed a long time ago. There was some kind of timelessness about his music that he could keep going through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s still making hits. A lot of artists who got their start in the 70’s didn’t manage to do that. Even if they were still creating albums and touring by the 90’s, people came to their concerts to sing along with the old familiar hits from the 70’s, not the songs that came out recently.

I have a feeling that as long as people are strumming guitars, they’ll be strumming Tom Petty songs.

So it’s the end of the line for Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. Next stop is Rockalfheim, where two of his Wilbury brothers are already waiting for him, along with Prince, and David, and Freddie, and John, and Jimi, and many others…

Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, you’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days. Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays Purple Haze…

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A Lokean Rock Star?

I spend a few hours yesterday watching David Bowie videos on YouTube, and finally remembered something I should have mentioned in my last post, especially since it’s a little more relevant to a Heathen blog.

When I first got into Heathenry, before other people’s depictions of him influenced me, I always imagined Loki as looking like David Bowie. Maybe I should add Bowie to my list of “honorary Lokeans”. Hey, if Jim Morrison, another inhabitant of Rockalfheim, can be an avatar of Dionysus, why not?

He was an androgynous, gender-bending, shape-shifting, perpetual outsider looking in. But is he really the crazy one, or is he really the only sane one, and it’s everyone else who’s crazy? I can relate to that feeling.

We need people like that to test our boundaries.

So here’s a song that I neglected to include in my last post, but is a very Lokean song, with a video of how Loki used to look to me (maybe with slightly less eye makeup).

It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling no
And her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

The Mighty Dead of Rockalfheim

I just got the news this morning that David Bowie has joined the Ancestors. His 69th birthday was just a few days ago, and I did think it was odd that NPR (which I had on my car radio as I was running errands) was talking about him so much on his birthday. Now I realize that they may have known what I didn’t know at the time, that he was terminally ill and probably wouldn’t make it to his 70th birthday. I had no idea he was sick. I guess I just assumed he’d keep on living like Mick Jagger. (Mick Jagger is immortal, right?)

I’ve never been a rabid David Bowie fan, but I have always had a lot of respect for him, and really like several of his songs (and I mean listen to them over and over again and never get tired of them like). I am a rabid Beatles and Queen fan, and consider Bowie to be just as important in music history. As far as music goes, I’ve always felt like I was born 30 years too late. I think rock music reached its peak in the 1960’s and 1970’s and will never be that good again.

John Lennon died a month before I was born, and Freddie Mercury died when I was just a little bit too young to care who he was, so I hope David Bowie doesn’t mind me paying tribute to them along with him today. (I don’t think he would. He was friends with both of them.)

I discovered the Beatles when I was 14 and The Beatles Anthology documentary was broadcast on TV. I watched it because I had heard a few Beatles songs on the local Oldies station, so I was a little curious, and there just wasn’t much else on TV at that time. I think I completely fell in love with them about 15 or 20 minutes in. I had never seen footage of them performing before, and something just clicked when I did.

I became obsessed with the Beatles, and soon branched out into other music of that era, like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Queen, and yes, David Bowie. The Beatles were always my favorite though, and John Lennon became a personal hero of mine in my teenage years. Listening to the Beatles now always gives me a warm feeling. They were a big source of comfort during a hard time in my life.

When George Harrison died in 2001 I felt grief almost like someone I knew personally had died. He was the least well-known Beatle, but All Things Must Pass is one of the greatest albums, which is impressive given that it’s a triple album. You’d think it would be full of filler, but it’s not. A lot of it is songs he wrote while he was in the Beatles, but didn’t get on the Beatles albums because he was overshadowed by the other two geniuses in the group.

After that he didn’t put out many more solo albums, but still had some great songs. My dad got Cloud Nine when it came out. I was a little kid at the time and loved it when he’d play it, but I didn’t connect George and the Beatles until later. George Harrison also helped introduce me to the idea that there were more spiritual options out there besides either Christianity or atheism.

I’ve always had a little trouble deciding which rock band was my second favorite after the Beatles, but Queen was always among those competing for that spot. (I’m also sure they wouldn’t be insulted by me saying they were second to the Beatles. They were huge Beatles fans too, so they’d probably agree.)

I can only imagine what would have happened if Freddie Mercury hadn’t died when he did. I could have gone and seen them live. Oh, that would have been great. Any lists of greatest rock frontmen that don’t include Freddie at the top are completely wrong. Yes, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, and Roger Daltry are all great, but none could hold a candle to Freddie.

 

So now David Bowie has joined that elite pantheon of Mighty Dead. You know, now that I think of it, maybe part of the reason I never got as much into David Bowie is just because I don’t know where to start. He was around for so long, putting out hits through several decades. He was like three or four artists in one. Collecting the complete albums of the Beatles, Queen, and Led Zeppelin when I was a teen wasn’t that hard to do, but David Bowie just had so much stuff. So all I have is his first Greatest Hits album. I know, that’s pretty lame.

I suppose in the coming days there will be a lot of tributes coming out, and some of them will talk about what his best albums were. Maybe that will help me decide where I need to start adding to my collection.

 

 

 

Happy Midsummer!

See the curtains hangin’ in the window
In the evenin’ on a Friday night
Little light is shinin’ through the window
Lets me know everything’s alright

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

See the paper layin’ on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walked on up to the doorstep
Through the screen and across the floor

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
And I come home from a hard day’s work
And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world

See the smile awaitin’ in the kitchen
Food cookin’ in the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind