This is my tribute to Tom Petty, who was great.
Hi, this is Jaime Escuder and welcome to None Sense.
Tom Petty has died.
When I heard that, I, of course, was sad because I liked Tom Petty. He seemed like a really, you know, honestly, a really cool guy. Like an original guy who was kind of uncompromising and just was who he was, and put out the music that he wanted to put out, and said what he wanted to say, and just seemed like the sort of guy who would just be a cool friend.
And so, when I first heard that news, there was sadness and a sense of loss, and there were really two feelings that I think, two things that I really felt that as I thought about him some more really kind of grow out of my identity as a member of Generation X, which is to say, someone, who is around 40 years old and who is now kind of entering what Jung called the “Afternoon of Life.”
The first thing that I thought about, that came to me, was the fact that the old guard that maybe we always thought would be here and that maybe we couldn’t really conceive of not being here, is leaving. Tom Petty is gone, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Douglas Adams, Michael Jackson. I mean, I remember thinking not even be able to imagine a world without Michael Jackson, just thinking Michael Jackson to be around forever. But, guys, Madonna turns 60 next August. So what that really means is the old guard is gone and we are becoming the old guard. We are stepping into the role heretofore played by our parents. Which is to say we are becoming managers of the world.
Now, it doesn’t seem like it because baby boomers still very much seem to have the helm of the world, but that’s not going to last much longer. The truth is that one of the aspects of being in the afternoon of life is navigating the surprising and surreal effect of people that you always kind of relied upon or expected to be there disappearing and moving on. And perhaps the biggest example of that is as we enter our afternoon, our parents are entering their evening and even entering their night. In fact, I mean, both of my parents are actually older than Tom Petty was when he died. So that’s the first thing that hearing about this death made me feel. It’s a sort of terrifying sensation of being left to go it alone. I mean, we’re losing our guides, we’re losing our Obi-Wans, our Gandalfs, our Dumbledors. And we have been forced across the line of departure, like it or not, ready or not.
Now, there’s nothing unusual or unnatural about that. It’s a process that every single generation has to go through. It’s what our parents went through when their parents entered that phase. But when you are personally going through it, it changes things a little bit. It’s one thing to read about it or just to intellectually know that it’s something that happens or that it’s inevitable that it will happen to you. But when you’re actually doing it and you wake up in the morning and you read the news that Tom Petty is dead, it’s as I said, it’s terrifying and sad, and it’s a little unsettling.
And the second thing that struck me when I heard about Tom Petty is just sort of an evaluation of him as a person.
You know, you kind of maybe overlook certain people until you hear about that they’re gone and then when you hear about they’re gone you kind of wish you had maybe thought about them more or that it didn’t necessarily take their death to make you evaluate how much they meant to you in your life, but I guess that’s the reality of the way it is. And so as I look at Tom Petty, I mean, we’ve lost an artist, we’ve lost a singer of songs. I mean, I’ve read a couple of obituaries about him and they kind of mention how, like all great artists, he remained true to himself.
The Times obituary noted that even though he sold millions of albums and he headlined numerous shows, his songs stayed down to earth, as they said, “Carrying lyrics that spoke for underdogs and ornery outcasts.” I think that’s true and I think maybe that’s one of the reasons why I liked his songs so much.
There’s this line in the Rush song, Force Ten, that says, “Tough times demand tough songs,” and I remember hearing that line and thinking it was rather silly, I mean, tough times demand…I don’t know what they demand. But iron fists, or guns, or iron-willed, or just inability to fight or physical strength, or I don’t know, but songs?
But when I was a public defender and it was my job to defend poor people in court and to stand up against powerful people like judges and just the police and the whole institution in the whole criminal justice system, I often thought of Tom Petty’s song I Won’t Back Down. And it’s more than I thought about it, I relied upon it. And it actually…it kept me from, well, backing down. I mean, I know what’s right, you’re not gonna push me around, I won’t back down. And that song did make me tough. It made me very tough. And I did count on Tom Petty’s song to be tough and to be what I needed to be in the world and to not back down even if I was stood up against the gates of hell. It was…I felt like I was in it with someone.
The Japanese poet, Ishikawa Takuboku, published a series of poems that he called Poems to Eat. And I think about that title a lot, or Poems for Eating. I think about it a lot because, you know, poetry is something that nourishes us. It is something that fortifies us.
And that’s true of art, that’s true of songs. It’s like what William Carlos Williams said, “It’s difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
And when I think about Tom Petty, and I have many fond memories of hearing, “I won’t back down” in my head, as I’m actually standing in the courtroom, maybe staring down a witness or a judge in the face and just hearing that and not backing down. It occurs to me that the song remains. That yes, the old guard is stepping away. But that’s not to say that they’re abandoning us.
We’re all in a boat out at sea. Tom Petty has sailed on. But he had a heart so big that he left behind some songs to keep us company as we move into the great wide open and take control of this world for a while. And for that, there’s really nothing else to say, but thanks.
And thanks for listening.