The United States has had the privilege of a robust music scene for ages now; however, the loss of Tom Petty will leave a heavy blow to American culture.

While his musical ability is undoubtedly a big reason for his influence, Tom Petty was one of those unique musicians who never let his rise to stardom take away his dignity. His success was hard fought as, at an early age, he had to deal with an abusive father, an experience that could leave anybody with a lot of scars. Unlike others who let a negative experience consume their life, Petty used music to achieve peace with himself.

Even in his teenage years, Petty walked the walk. Some Americans may claim to possess the great rebellious spirit that’s a hallmark of American society, but Petty is one of the few whose actions prove he was really a rebel. At age 17, he dropped out of high school to pursue his dreams of becoming a successful musician by joining the southern rock group Mudcrutch before starting his solo career in 1975.

Shortly after starting his solo career, he’d meet the people he’d form the Heartbreakers with such as bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. Also joining them were two members from Mudcrutch, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tech.

In many ways, he and his band were the true American rebels of the late twentieth century.

This rebellious spirit that Petty triumphantly harnessed is what helped craft his legacy as a genius of American music. A song like “Refugee” is a perfect example of this. People would serve themselves well by paying attention to his following lyrics.

“We got somethin’ we both know it, we don’t talk too much about it, yeah it ain’t no real big secret all the same.”

What makes these lyrics special, besides of course the great music that accompanies it, is that these lyrics talk about Americans as a people in a very clever way. It may sound weird, but, culturally speaking, Americans prefer to talk about anything but what’s wrong with themselves, their family, friends, country, etc. Essentially, as a people, Americans tend to burden themselves by never really talking about what’s truly bothering them as it’s part of American culture to be happy go lucky even what that’s impossible.

(image credit: Shelter Records)

Petty knew his people better than they did themselves, and when he sings that people don’t have to live like refugees, he’s telling his listeners that they shouldn’t feel the need to burden themselves with more worries than necessary. Not only was he a great musician, he was a man with a lot of wisdom.

Even when life gave him tough times, he never gave up. Near the end of the 1970’s, Petty faced bankruptcy when the record label MGA tried to buy out ABC records, who was behind distributing Petty’s original label. While some may have thrown in the towel, Petty’s character needs to be given respect once more as he refused to call it quits.

People that thought he was wasting his time were utterly humiliated as the biggest record of his career of that time, Damn the Torpedoes, launched in 1979 with songs like “Don’t Do Me Like That” and of course “Refugee.” Not only would he come to sing that he wouldn’t back down, in life he truly never did.

Whether his house burned down causing him to lose a good deal of his possessions, getting divorced after twenty-two years of marriage, or turning to heroin to cope with the divorce, Tom Petty did eventually get through the challenges of his life. It wasn’t easy but he made it. He was always a worthy source of inspiration as he wasn’t one to fear imperfection; he knew it was a part of being human.

Tom Petty is a musician worthy of respect, not just because of his talent, but also because of who he was as a person. In an interview with Esquire magazine in 2006, Petty gave some insight into what he personally thought was special about his life journey.

“What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work- the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”

Money was never the man’s priority. It was always about the music to him. American culture has suffered a great loss with Tom Petty’s passing.

He warrants attention because he was able to inspire generations of Americans to pursue their dreams into the great wide open and always maintained an honorable character in the process. Seeing how legends like Tom Petty come only once in a blue moon, it’s essential that Americans let his spirit live on through his music and the airwaves.

Some people already laugh about the fact that they have no idea who Tom Petty was and that’s a sad state of ignorance. Let’s hope his music never stops playing and that Petty’s memory gets the respect that only a few music legends deserve.   

Thomas Cahalan
Thomas is a sophomore Law and Politics major with a minor in communication. As someone with an admiration for the past, he has a love for the fact that everyone has their own perspective and wisdom to share from their own lives. He looks forward to cultivating this love by being the news editor this year, helping the voices of the SNHU community be heard.

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