You’re a good man to ride the river with….
On October 2, 2017 the lights went out and the end came for a man that I never really thought would die. Thomas Earl Petty. His death turned my world upside down. Not just tears but downright belly aching sobbing that I never expected for a man I’d never met.
I was born in ’79 and I had missed the passing of Elvis and Lennon. Two great musicians that’s deaths effected most fans of music. I’d heard many times as my mother recounted stories of having tickets to see Elvis & giving them up for a date. He passed away before she got another chance.
My parents indoctrinated me into classic rock from birth. Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, all of it played round the clock in my home. Those unique sounds of southern musicians. As I got older I discovered this guy named Tom Petty. At first it was all his hits, all the fun stuff that virtually everyone loved, then it became a love on a much deeper level.
- I Won’t Back Down & End of the Line both were part of a compilation disc I made for my father. A disc that was to help him get through my brother being in a war zone during Operation Iraqi Freedom in ’03. Confirmation, through music, that it would all be ok. That he would come back home to us, without the drape of an American Flag.
- Room at The Top comforted me during one of my first heartbreaks. I listened through sobs as I laid on my carpeted living rooom while Petty belted out. “I love you, please love me…I’m not so bad...” As always, he knew what to say. Only recently did I learn that this album was written during the end of his first marriage. Shared heartbreak- if even thru speakers.
- Zombie Zoo & All Right for Now became songs my daughter loved. Once I had her in 2010 Tom Petty became someone she knew too. She quickly learned sections of rarer tracks and would belt them out as best she could for a toddler. But she could always identify Petty on the radio! We were supposed to have a chance to go see him together someday.
Over the years I had jokingly said I better see him live before he passes away, although I never really thought he’d die. So many times he’d play Atlanta and the conditions just weren’t right. It would be a show outside in August (have you been in Atl in Aug-yuck!) or I just didn’t have the money. It was never for lack of want but circumstances.
40th Anniversary Tour
When his 2017 tour was announced, I saw that Atlanta was one of the stops and the tickets would go on sale right before Christmas. I saw the prices and had just about talked myself out of it. My husband told me it’s only money & we needed to go. So I purchased tickets getting the best seats I could (not floor but first level!)
The night before the show I was beyond excited (honestly I’d been stoked for 30 years for this day!) I did have one regret. I wish my brother could’ve went. Side note: He and his wife had sold their belongings a few weeks prior and had headed out to tour the US in their converted van. That night I dreamt that I won tickets for them to come to the show.
If you followed Tom Petty’s social media you know they gave out tickets in random spots in each city along the tour. As it turned out we were staying in Hotel across from the famous Fox theater. I just knew that the Atl giveaway would involve the iconic Fox. I set-up notifications so that I would see any posts by Tom Petty Official account immediately. We arrived in Atl around 3:30 that afternoon, checked in at the hotel, and sat down for just a minute…..then it came… A photo of the Fox with a clue. WE WERE WITHIN 500 ft of the FOX & darted out of our room to be the first ones there. We met his Social Media guy. I was googling the answer the whole time and could NOT find it! (Unbeknownst to me- folks had posted the answer in the comments on the initial FB post.) Other people began to show up. One pair gone, two pairs gone, three pairs gone, four pairs gone. I begged and pleaded with the social media guy. He gave me a hint….he had big ears. MICKEY MOUSE! No. OMG I watched as the last person headed across the street. I pleaded…. I’ve wanted to see him for 30 years, please. I was the first one here. I am the best googler around and I cannot find this answer. With a coy smile he handed me the last set.
I failed to mention one key part to this all. My brother and sister in law had to come back home from TX unexpectedly the day before to grab a few last things. I’d been in touch with him that day. Even sent him a message saying I’d wish I coulda won tickets for them. Immediately after winning a slick phone call of….whatcha doin tonight? They had made plans but thankfully their sweet friends understood and they headed downtown. The kicker….my brother had been told years ago that Petty had died while he was serving overseas. He had regretted never seeing him play.
We had time for a few drinks & headed to the show…and I was getting to see it all with my brother too. Oddly enough they would wind up in seats directly behind us about 10 rows back in the HUGE sold out Phillips Arena.
Joe Walsh opened and put on a hell of a performance. Tom took the stage, the man I wasn’t quite sure I’d ever see live, and my husband snapped this picture.
All that rocking out, all the times he held my hand, guided me through life, all encapsulated in these tear-filled eyes.
The night was magical. He played almost all my favorites, especially my anthem Walls. You see he said it perfectly….
All around your island
There’s a barricade
That keeps out the danger
That holds in the pain
Sometimes you’re happy
Sometimes you cry
Half of me is ocean
Half of me is sky, but
You got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down
And just like that the night was over, the lights came on & it all felt like one big dream.
This past week has felt like I lost one person in this world who understood me. I have tried to shake myself outta this & as much as I’ve wanted, I haven’t been able to. A friend encouraged me to get it all out & so here it is. My heart is simply broken and if you’ve lasted this long in this never ending sonnet then I would guess yours probably is too.
Tom has said that Johnny Cash once sent him a card for his 50th birthday that simply said….You’re a good man to ride the river with.