Tom Petty can’t be dead because if he’s dead, that means AARP is stalking me and the avalanche of inevitable rock-star deaths is underway, and when it hits, it’s gonna be downright awful. Or worse.
Lemmy — no last name needed — is gone, though it’s a wonder Motorhead’s driving force lasted as long as he did. Booze and cigarettes make a terrible diet.
But half of the Beatles are alive. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are alive. Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are alive. Gene Simmons is still with us, though his ego will likely survive him when he does go.
Closer to my age, Nikki Sixx, of the now-retired Motley Crue, snorted enough cocaine and shot enough smack to kill an elephant twice, and he’s now a sober miracle.
Even Guns ’n Roses’ Slash is very much alive, thanks in part to the pacemaker implanted in his chest.
Heck, even Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne are alive. And there’s no reasoned, logical, empirical explanation for why Keef and Oz are standing while Tom, who died Monday after suffering a heart attack, is gone.
Maturity stole my hair, but it hasn’t dissolved my immature worship of those who have recorded the soundtrack of my life. Few things other than music give me goosebumps, but it must have passion and melody and a bit of grit. Think Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” with its swirling lines and moody breakdown that no bar band can recreate. Thank God that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are still with us, as well.
Intuitively, I’ve always known that these musicians — my heroes — would eventually retire and slip away. Time always wins.
Contrary to popular belief, rockers aren’t predestined to succumb to overdose (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin) or assassination (John Lennon). Some die from lung cancer, like George Harrison, or liver cancer, like Gregg Allman and David Bowie. Some take their own lives, like Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain and the Allmans’ Butch Trucks, or perish in plane crashes, like Buddy Holly, Randy Rhoads, Ronnie Van Zandt and Stevie Ray Vaughan, or motorcycle crashes, like Duane Allman. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey died from complications after intestinal surgery; bile-duct cancer killed the Ramones’ Tommy Ramone.
Human frailty doesn’t give a damn about fame.
I didn’t get weak-kneed when Michael Jackson died or Prince died or Glen Campbell died, because they weren’t my thing. My pimply years were spent daydreaming to “Detroit Rock City” and “Carry on My Wayward Son” and “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath,” not “Little Red Corvette.” But I get it. Fans’ sadness is deep and painful and wholly irrational and long-lasting. But it is undeniably real.
Sometime around 1980 or so, I bought a Tom Petty 45-rpm single, “Refugee,” that I’d heard on Memphis’ Rock 103. I wore that sucker out on the tiny mono record player in my bedroom.
Tom and his Florida band were tough, gritty, melodic and seasoned. They were the dudes next door, jeans and T-shirts, whose music didn’t intimidate parents’ sensibilities like Kiss or Ted Nugent.
He was just Tom, and they were just the Heartbreakers.
I never became a Tom Petty fanboy, especially when he drifted toward MTV stardom and the Traveling Wilburys, but his best records were his first, raw and real, guitars and drums and voice.
Today, that 45 is long gone. Tom Petty is, too. I’m scared to think who’s next.