Why I love Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty has been such an inspiration to me in getting back to seriously working on making music. When I listen to him, his music sounds simple enough to reproduce. I thought, “I can play that.” One of the first songs of his I learned was ‘Runnin Down a Dream.’ I wasn’t scared of trying that song, or later, ‘You Wreck Me.’ Both were interesting and presented some challenge rhythmically or guitar-wise. I remember walking along the beach practicing counting out the beats. I love playing those songs, and others by the Heartbreakers.

I always say that Tom Petty essentially de-mystified rock for me. I like the way he presents his songs. He’s not a screamer or a ‘hard-rocker,’ and his face is usually fairly deadpan. He looks like he’s thinking about what he’s singing. I like that he models a strong leadership in the band, and even though he’s not a super flashy performer, he knows how to capture his audience and give them a great show. I saw him at one of the last stops on his 40th Anniversary tour in 2017. He died just a few weeks later. It was my first live concert of that magnitude in years. The outdoor amphitheater was packed, and everybody knew all of his songs. Lots of older parents my age were there with their adult kids. We were all shouting and singing along. Joe Walsh, who opened for the Heartbreakers that night, made an even bigger impression on me, and I became a huge fan.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers & Joe Walsh at Xfinity Theatre

The Heartbreakers is kind of a model band for me: Drum, bass, rhythm and lead guitars, lead singer and back-up vocals. I decided about 5 years ago after Emilie asked me to play for an event at work that that’s what I wanted, too: to be the lead singer in a band, to make my own arrangements, and to have good musicians around me backing me up and making it happen. About a year after that event, I had found a bass player and a drummer and we’re still together, and getting better all the time.

Another thing I like about Tom Petty is that he could hold his own and take lead parts in the Travelin Wilburys, with guys like George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. He had this laid-back calm and friendly way about him and he’s not garrulous. When he speaks you listen. I’d like to be like that, too. I like that he stood up to the music industry and won, twice. He decided he wasn’t going to back down, and he wrote a song about that too.

I wouldn’t call him a great singer, or even a great guitar player. So he makes me feel like I have permission to get out there and do it, too. If he can, why can’t I? With Tom Petty, it’s more about heart, dedication and commitment to the craft. He just kept writing, and his band just kept performing. Their success was the product of consistent work.

This is the poster that hangs on my wall. Thanks, Tom. You’re still inspiring me, and I’m still singing your songs!

Last year I set about learning one of Chrissie Hynde’s songs, ‘Brass in Pocket,’ from a Youtube tutorial by Adrian (anyonecanplayguitar.co.uk). I also decided to learn ‘Just What I Needed,’ by The Cars. They’re both so much fun to play. The process of learning new fingering, new chords higher up on the neck, and putting vocals together with new rhythms was a challenge that seemed impossible. My fingers felt like wood. But I’ve seen that perseverance pays off: if I keep working on it, it gets easier and easier. And one day I’m amazed that I can play it with my eyes closed!

The prospect of a 68 year old woman (at that time) performing a song like Brass in Pocket was interesting to me. I

felt like it would be smashing some cultural norms about older women not having those kinds of feelings or desires.

Not true! I like being a spokesperson for women who feel they’ve lost some of their voice with the loss of youth.

I had to ask myself, “Can I actually sing this song , at my age??” And the answer was, “Yes! I can.” It’s a message that resonates: not being noticed, feeling invisible, wanting to be noticed; wanting to enjoy life, to feel empowered to ask for what I want, not just sexually, but in any other area. Wanting to be counted and recognized as important, valuable, and unique. Like Chrissie says in the song, “I’m special!”

A new thought that I’d like to try playing an electric guitar came to me one day around that time. Ian has one, so does Vicente. I told Vicente about it, and a week or so later he came over carrying a long hard skinny case. What is that?? ‘For you. It was my son’s first guitar and he doesn’t play it anymore.

I got my wish, but I haven’t played it yet. I’m still loving my Alvarez too much. The electric is under my couch, waiting. There’s a time for everything.