Friday, October 13, 2017

Echoes of loss: Missing Mom & Tom Petty

The admission will cause some to label me a real SOB, but I’m having trouble deciding who I’m missing more, my Mom or Tom Petty.

Mom, 84, died July 7. Petty, 66, died too soon.

Petty wrote “The Waiting,” “Refugee” and “Free Fallin’.”

Mom wrote grocery lists with detailed brand instructions involving feminine hygiene products.

I’m missing Mom more than I thought I would. I thought I’d feel relief that her demise was tidy and involved none of the negative hypotheticals I’d indulged the last years as her mind bit-by-bit began floating away. 

I miss laughing with her even as toward the end her punch lines were unintentional. Remember, her last best joke was when they were wheeling her off the porch to the ambulance parked outside her senior living home (she’d fallen and shattered her wrist). Her neighbors asked her what was wrong.

“They’re taking me to the hospital. I’m gonna have a baby!”

I think she was joking, but who knows?

I find myself driving past her old place at odd hours. One of her favorite things to do her last year was for me to take her on long rides in the country while Broadway show tunes played on the radio.

I still sometimes make the rides, but now I’m all alone. She was right up to the end the most persistently sweet person I’ve ever known and the reason no one who’s ever met her would ever dare call me or my brother a son of a bitch.

I miss her.

But I miss Petty, too. I just didn’t see that one coming.

A friend, another steadfast Petty fan from way back, said “he’s the only artist who never even once embarrassed me with a look, a period, a statement, or song, much less an album.”

Heck, even his Christmas song is good.

SNL’s 10 p.m. show last week was from ’79 when Petty & The Heartbreakers were the musical guests. They played “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.” I hope you caught him, all thin, snarl and sneer. 

He made looking cool so effortless. Same with his songwriting. His knack for writing compelling, catchy hits is unmatched.

How many artists have their last album (“Hypnotic Eye” ’14) be as stellar as their first four decades previous? And with zero lulls. Drop the needle on any song from any album and your pulse will begin to hum.

My favorite album? It was his least favorite.

It’s “Echo” from ’99.

I remember hearing the first notes from “Room at the Top of the World” and feeling I’d just been introduced to a new best friend. It would be there with me for the rest of my life. And it has.

It was like that with every Petty album.

He hated “Echo,” I’ve read and never played any of it in concert. You’d never know it from the often-raucous songs, but the album was for this soulful man an anthem of defeat. His marriage was ending and he was fighting a heroin addiction, the same scourge that was simultaneously killing Heartbreaker Howie Epstein.

I urge you to download the “Echo” title track. It’s an exquisite lament. Knowing its enigmatic message so pained this beloved and gentle man only adds ache to the inherent poignancy.

I like what Val said when I told her the news. “Oh, that’s too bad. He seemed like such a delightful guy.”

I like that she didn’t mention his music. Because he was truly delightful. It shone through in his songs, his videos and his funny cameos in movies like Kevin Costner’s “The Postman,” “King of the Hill,” and “The Larry Saunders Show.”

His joys, even in the face of woe, were irrepressible. I love in the “Runnin’ Down a Dream” rockumentary when he’s asked about his addictions during the “Echo” period. He in hushed tones, very serious, says how drugs can devastate lives and kill creativity. And, clearly, he means it. He’s felt its unholy ravages

But then his blue eyes begin to twinkle and a small grin appears. He asks the interviewer, “You don’t happen to have any drugs, do you?”

And he cackles unrepentantly. It’s very funny.

I read him saying this summer was going to be his last big tour. He had a 4-year-old granddaughter he was looking forward to spending time with.

Thus, the Heartbreaker leaves us broken hearted. 

Ah, life can be a such a bitch.

Especially when you lose the ones who weren’t.

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