Tom Petty, heart breaker
Once the leader of the Heartbreakers, an eternal hero of rock’n’roll…
Unexpectedly, Tom Petty passed away on 2nd October 2017, from a cardiac arrest at his home in Santa Monica in California, far from Florida, the state where he came into the world 66 years ago… Last week, he crossed the finish line of a marathon tour of 50-something dates with his Heartbreakers, on the stage of Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on 25th September.
It’s interesting to note that on this side of the Atlantic, his number of fans are more modest. Tom Petty was, however, close to legendary status, a myth, a star. A sort of representative, if not ambassador, of an eternal rock’n’roll classicism. In his values. In his background. In his form. Much like Bruce Springsteen, Petty will remain the torch bearer of a kind of rock rebellion. Aiming for the perfect song with well-worn themes that he brought back around thanks to an incomparable refrain or a melody just as ideal. At the end of the ‘80s, he was the youngest of the super group The Traveling Wilburys who were raking in the cash, and was in amongst the ranks of George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan…
Supported by his irreplaceable Heartbreakers, Tom Petty was an aesthete who knew the different mathematical theories of rock’n’roll, be it British (Stones and Beatles) or North American (Dylan and the Byrds) that he would chew up and digest. At the end of the ‘70s, all this would bring us albums that were classy, classic, often witty and superbly written and played. We find marvels such as Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (1976), You’re Gonna Get It (1978), Damn The Torpedoes (1979) and Hard Promises (1981). This was the era of punk, post punk and new wave: styles that went perfectly with a Petty who wanted to prove that he could turn the old into the new. Or rather take the rock that he grew up with (he was in his teens for the golden age of 1965/1970) and breathe new life into it. Much later, his recipe would sometimes feel repetitive or anecdotal. Nothing catastrophic, just albums that would coast along, resulting from too many Springsteen-like concerts no doubt… During his life, the man under the blonde mane had enough time to leave America timeless hymns to be buried in the pantheon.
With Wildflowers in 1994, Petty came back wiser once more with a more joyful and quite inspired album. This colourful side was seen again with Hypnotic Eye, the 13th and last studio album that was released in 2014. An energetic and exquisite album that wouldn’t really change his image but would deserve the attention of noteworthy rock fans. We find there a lively group, very lively in fact, with no added fat or artificial flavourings, equipped with a raw and refined sound, at the heart of which the head of house seems to have found a second youth. "What's great Tom Petty declared in an interview in 2006, is when someone comes up to me in the street and more or less thanks me for my work. For those that call it the soundtrack to their life. It’s an incredible feeling. And it’s all that an artist can ask for."
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Mirages (Messager, Debussy, Delibes, Delage, Thomas...) Sabine Devieilhe Gramophone Editor's Choice