If the terrorist explosion in Manchester, England, at the Ariana Grande concert wasn't hard enough to fathom, the mass shooting in Las Vegas during a country music concert further accentuated the feeling that senseless violence in large places has become an uncontrollable and almost inevitable possibility of our now everyday existence.
Then on top of those horrors came a report that Tom Petty had died of a heart attack. As I scrolled through the news feeds that seem to run my daily mobile phone life, the news of his death as it went from a non-confirmed story to one where he had not yet passed, but was on life support stopped me in my tracks.
Trying to understand the Ping Pong of emotions concerning all of this was really starting to make me feel guilty. It wasn't until after I asked myself why I was seemingly more upset about the death of a 66 year-old rock star, whose music was not even on my daily playlist, than I was for the 59 innocent people who died while attending an outdoor concert.
The answer, of course, was because I saw in Tom Petty's arc of life, my own. His death brought about so many questions for me. I questioned everything I've done so far, everything I still want to do, and it forced me to face the reality that while time was my greatest asset when I was young, now it had become my greatest enemy as I grow older.
To be fair: the deaths of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Chuck Berry and Prince all hit me the same way. I loved each one of those artists but I was able to recognize that the paths to their demises were not the same as mine. Petty's death, as far as I know, was not about drugs, prescription or otherwise, as it was with Reed, Frey, and Prince, or cancer as it was for Bowie, or from old age as it was with Berry.
Tom Petty was dead from a heart attack--one of the scariest and most random of all deaths. Maybe that was it. No one saw it coming. There was no time for him or anyone else to say goodbye; no time to reflect on accomplishments. The sudden sense of mortality, the idea that I could just drop dead at any moment, as he had has completely turned me around.
Tom Petty and I are one year apart in age. We both saw the Beatles on TV and were inspired to pursue our dreams. We both had huge MTV success. We both had 40-year long careers, and we both knew when it was time to retire and smell the roses. I retired in 2016 and Petty retired, ironically, just one week before he died, playing the last show of his "farewell tour" and of his life, at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A.
I always admired the fight he had against his record label when they used one of his albums to justify increasing the price of all the albums they were about to release. I like that he embarrassed the company forcing them to back down.
When he joined the British-American supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, I began to understand his value. That group contained the greatest talent of any band ever assembled: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and, Tom Petty. If rock music was an Olympic event then The Traveling Wilburys were the USA Gold Medal-winning Men's Basketball Team of Rock 'n Roll!
Tom Petty had said that he wanted to spend time with his granddaughter, that he didn't want to die on the road. I get it. Friends of mine don't really understand me when I say that not touring anymore has been the best thing that has happened to me in years. They can't understand that it doesn't matter how many people you play to or how much money you make. At a certain age, the issue of time becomes its
own arbiter. When you have dedicated your life to your dreams and are lucky enough to attain them, aging has a way of altering your life path.
It's not like I will never play again. It's not like Tom would never have played again after retiring. It had become apparent to both of us, in our own unique and very separate ways to value the thing that's more important than anything: time with family and friends.
I know that many people work until they die either because they want to or they have to. I would bet though, that most at least saw their family members or friends almost everyday. What it is about touring is that you are surrounded by thousands of people who outwardly seem to love you. In reality, after the show you find yourself walking down a long hallway only to enter a stark and empty hotel room at night.
Tom Petty made it to the finish line and he died in his own home, and I, and millions of fans mourn him for all he did and all he gave. He will be missed. At least there can be some solace in that we still have his music to remember him by. As for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, the ramifications may be somewhat harsher, ultimately changing what it means to our quality of life.