Why Tom Petty's Death Hurts So Much

We've all sung his songs at karaoke and played them on the guitar
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2017 10:00 AM CDT
Remembering the 'Psychedelic Strangeness' of Tom Petty
In this July 1, 2017, photo, Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performs during their "40th Anniversary Tour" in Philadelphia.   (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP, File)

Tom Petty died Monday night at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 66 after suffering from cardiac arrest, and the tributes are now pouring in. Thanks to a mixup in the media that led to a premature announcement, the tributes actually began a little early, as he was showered with remembrance from both regular folk and stars like Courtney Love, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Cyndi Lauper. Related coverage:

  • Entertainment Weekly lists his top 10 songs, with "Free Fallin'" not surprisingly grabbing the No. 1 spot.
  • Over at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dan DeLuca lists Petty as "near the very top" in the "pantheon of the great American rockers." DeLuca takes a deep dive into the backstory of the "canny craftsman and formidable bandleader," including his first brushes with fame on an Elvis Presley movie set and his initial forays into music as a high school dropout with the band Mudcrutch.

  • Not that Petty's life was all guitars and roses. People reveals how much the singer had to overcome to find success, and true love, including an abusive father who beat him with belts, a tumultuous first marriage, and heroin addiction. "You start losing your soul," he told his biographer about his drug issues.
  • The Sun notes that AnnaKim Violette Petty, one of Petty's daughters, changed her user name on Instagram to "dadlivesmatteronelove" and posted a slew of images dedicated to her dad. The last three, as of Tuesday morning: a photo of Petty holding her as a baby, lyrics to Petty's "Alright Now," and a picture of a pizza with the caption: "When friends bring pizza weed and movies at midnight i love u peeps."
  • Luis Gomez calls Petty a "songwriter's songwriter" for the San Diego Union-Tribune, pulling out some of his most memorable lyrics. Standing out from "I Won't Back Down": "Well I know what's right / I got just one life / In a world that keeps on pushin' me around / But I'll stand my ground."
  • The Washington Post notes Petty's "Americana felt stranger than the rest," with Chris Richards opining on the songs that "came coated in a thin residue of psychedelic strangeness."
  • Brian Raftery makes an observation for Wired that's not being as widely noted: that Petty was an "unlikely video pioneer"—a musician who maybe didn't have the glitz of some of the more polished, MTV-friendly performers, but who "[used] the medium to play up his love of detailed storytelling and southern-weirdo charms."
  • Ultimately, Tom Petty's death hurts so much because it feels like we're losing a part of ourselves, Mikael Wood writes for the Los Angeles Times. Whether you've sung "American Girl" at karaoke, strummed "Learning to Fly" on the guitar, or belted out "Free Fallin'" behind the wheel, Wood notes, listeners couldn't resist the "seemingly bottomless bag of tunes that felt as though he'd written them to soundtrack the specifics of your life."
(More Tom Petty stories.)

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