Tom Petty’s Influence on Forming My Identity; Teaching Me to Question the System, Not Necessarily Authority Itself

I want to be clear: I am hereby giving permission to Tom Petty, who passed away yesterday at age 66, to affect my emotions.

Right now I am thinking back to exactly where I was 23 years ago, in the fall of 1994. I was 13 years-old and in the 8th grade.

While at the Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I had a $20 bill in my wallet that I was eager to spend on my first Tom Petty cassette tape. Overwhelmed by all his albums, I chose his Greatest Hits album, which was still new at the time.

The 30 year age difference between Tom Petty and me didn’t matter. This 43 year-old, 5’9”, legendary rocker was one cool dude.

As I was still just learning the play the guitar at the time, his music would serve as a major influence on my musical style. By the time I got to college and began recording my own music, I actually used his 1989 album, Full Moon Fever, as the prototype for the mixing style.

Exactly 12 years ago, right after I had moved to Nashville, the Green Hills Mall had just reopened from remodeling, and were giving out $50 gift cards to the first 50 people who showed up on the grand reopening. I spent the night in the parking lot with my friends.

After realizing the Green Hills mall was more of a fancier mall, the only thing worth spending my money on was CDs; so I spent it all on Tom Petty albums.

Now as an adult, I can look back and see why exactly Tom Petty was always cool:

He was the definition of what it meant to be a rebel. He was the symbol of true rock-n-roll.

I can’t think of a more defiant line in any song recorded by any artist:

“You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”

Tom Petty continually questioned the system. His album, The Last DJ, exposed the politics and greed behind what it now takes to be successful in music.

His identity was based on nonconformity; especially when it came to music.

There is no question that Tom Petty served as a guide for me in forming my identity. As a young teenager, I learned that being cool and rebellious wasn’t really about defying figures in authority, but instead, about questioning and challenging “the system”.

I am grateful to have lived the first half of my life with Tom Petty as a part of it. As for the 2nd half of my life, I’ll stick with what he taught me to get through the rest.


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