“I Can’t Hold Out Forever”: RIP Tom Petty

Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks.

What a terrible way to end a terrible day. I don’t even know how to write anything new about mass shootings at this point. So instead I’ll mourn an individual: singer-songwriter Tom Petty.

I was going to write about Petty later this month, on the birthday that we share. But with the sad news of his death at age 66, I’ll move that up to this evening.

Back in the days when I wrote songs as a break from writing my dissertation, I admired no one so much as Tom Petty. He wasn’t Dylan as a lyricist, McCartney as a tunesmith, or Springsteen as a performer. But if his writing and playing seemed more attainable, they were no less astonishing. Apart from Neil Young, I don’t know of anyone so capable of tossing off such simple, indelible songs for so long. What Petty did seemed somehow effortless.

And timeless: while something in every Petty song reminded you of some chapter in the history of rock and its roots, it also sounded utterly unlike everything else then dominating the charts.

I didn’t love every album he and the Heartbreakers made, but it’s staggering to realize how many great songs they recorded. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Then two minor hits from later in his career that struck me as especially poignant tonight. I doubt I’ll hear these two choruses the same way again…

Yeah, when all of this is over
Should I lose you in the smoke
I want you to know you were the one
And may my love travel with you everywhere
Baby, may my love travel with you always

You’ve got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down