October 2 was a hard day for three reasons. The first, and obviously most horrific, was the shooting at an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas. The second was the shocking, sudden death of singer Tom Petty. The third reason is for what followed thereafter.
I won’t comment on the first. There’s too much to say about it. It deserves a full column of its own, and even then, the intransigent, dug-in positions of so many will likely be unmoved by whatever is said. It’s all been said so often by now, and I don’t have the raging ego to believe my latest statement will change something more than nothing at all.
On the second, sure, I was a fan. I was a fan since Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed “Refugee” on Saturday Night Live (or, as was in that weird “what are we” period, just Saturday Night). I was a fan when I bought Long After Dark on record at the local Shop Rite, back when they sold record albums at grocery stores.
Was I a die-hard? Perhaps not. I couldn’t get into the majority of the later years like Mojo, and while I really liked Hypnotic Eye, it didn’t stay in the car stereo too long. I’d never gone to one of his concerts, although I would have liked to. It was not something I felt a pressing urgency to accomplish, however.
I am, as I suspect many are, highly appreciative of Tom Petty’s efforts and grateful he was here. I’m glad for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” “The Waiting,” “You Got Lucky,” the Jeff Lynne years which I occasionally groused about, calling them “The Electric Heartbreaker Orchestra” because of Lynne’s unmistakable production style. He was a favorite, but not THE favorite and every artist is bound to such distinctions amid a diverse audience.
Which is to say, a lot of people are going to have a lot to say about Tom Petty over the next couple of days, which brings up to that third hard point (I did mention three, after all). No sooner did people start posting their condolences, their mourning, their disbelief that he could be dead less than a week after his recent tour ended, than others have to dismissively chime in, “How pathetic. Now everyone’s a Tom Petty fan. Now all the experts come crawling from the woodwork.”
Because people are not allowed to like anything. Because people are not allowed to express what they like. Because people don’t like something enough, in your opinion, to have an opinion worthy of being voiced. Because, because, because.
I find this confusing. Most of the folks who express this dismissive, “too cool to mourn” attitude are the same folks who proudly exclaim that the problem today is that parents refuse to parent right, that they don’t teach their kids any manners, and that back when they were kids, if they didn’t mind their Ps and Qs, their parents would smack the rest of the alphabet out of them. Leaving aside that last part for yet a whole other discussion, if in fact, they were as “raised right” as they brag, they would have obeyed their parents when they were told to respect the dead, or at the very least, show proper consideration during the window of time when people are grieving.
And yes, people have a right to grieve a bit when a celebrity passes, and specifically when a said celebrity has contributed to a moment or two in their lives. When it comes to music, especially, those contributions literally form the soundtrack to memory. When I think about a specific, stinging heartbreak, I will remember “Straight Into Darkness” from Long After Dark. Now, the relationship, the time, the place, and the person who made that song are all gone, and even the memory of the combination has grown thin, like the inseam of very old jeans.
There are instances of pointless star worship. I’d be foolish to deny that, but on the whole, when things like this occur with such whiplash suddenness, the coping mechanism can be as legitimate as that for a friend or a distant family member. It doesn’t destroy you like the passing of a very close loved one, but it certainly gnaws at the heart. How dare anyone, in a moment of typical Internet indifference, try to make anyone else feel diminished for expressing that yet another aspect of their lives is now rendered irretrievable.
What a boring life it would be if we were all so dispassionate about everything and had nothing to say, and we never disturbed the trolls as they mused over what next to be “completely over.” They claim to be taking down the dilettantes, but I think they just don’t enjoy or appreciate much, and envy those who do. That makes it all the more imperative to like what you like, do what you do, don’t be afraid of expressing it. Those who follow this example will create and actually live a life. Those who don’t can claim their moral superiority and “raised rightness” and find solace in being miserable.