california, dad, death, heart attack, into the great wide open, lloyd center, memorial, mourning, music, portland, reseda, tom petty, tom petty and the heartbreakers, tom petty memorial vampire walk, vampires
1991 was a horrible year for our family. My grandfather had died on my 8th birthday and my father was working odd hours in a Safeway bakery because he had been laid off from the office job he had had for years.
It was a school night and we were at Lloyd Center. It was still light outside, but Dad said something about how we needed to leave soon because it was getting close to our bedtime. I remember being annoyed about that. We piled into the car and, instead of going home, we pulled into the parking lot of the Portland Coliseum. I was confused… Dad was smiling. I asked him “Are we going to the doll and teddy bear show?” He reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a ticket and held it out so I could read it- TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS. I actually screamed.
Because we loved Tom Petty. Because my dad loved Tom Petty. Tom Petty was my dad’s alter-ego.They were born the same year and my dad had followed him throughout his career. Tom Petty wore red Converse- so my dad did too. My dad spent time learning his songs on guitar and piano–and he copied his voice and vocal inflections- “Thank you very much.” We often talked about how we’d buy Dad a “Rickenbacker 360 12-string” in fireglow if we “won the lottery.” I had an actual adult wish to get one for him in real life eventually.
My sister and I got hooked when we saw his Alice & Wonderland-themed music video “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” I remember squealing about how he burps at the end. The video was included in a compilation that my dad would watch over and over again (he had a life-long tendency to watch things over and over again until they were burned into his consciousness and he could recite the dialogue word-for-word) called “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: A Bunch of Videos and Some Other Stuff.”
Dad had this monologue about the San Fernando Valley memorized . He tries to perform it for the camera in a family video recorded on a beach trip on my grandmother’s behemoth camcorder we borrowed for the occasion but my mom was filming and cut away from him before he could finish it… probably because she’d heard it so many times. My sister and I reenacted the random golf scenes spread throughout. I think anyone can understand Tom Petty’s appeal to kids if they only watch this “I’m Stupid” video.
We listened to the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys on every road trip we ever took and random trips to the grocery store in between. I specifically asked for sunglasses shaped like the ones he wore in “Don’t Come Around Here No More” for my 9th birthday. Mom made me a guitar-shaped cake that year. I had a collection of Tom Petty cassettes of my own that I would listen to on a walkman. Thinking about that reminds me of the smell of Music Millennium– the music store in Portland where we went at least one weekend a month for my entire childhood.
We saw him again when he came to Portland for the Wildflowers tour. I saw him again as an adult in Anaheim for the Hypnotic Eye tour.
I learned how to drive in Los Angeles where I’ve somehow made my home. I live in Reseda- if I had a front yard, there would be a freeway running through it. I’m 2 blocks away from Ventura Boulevard. My first teaching job was on Mullholland Highway. And after the years and years of forest fires, I’m continually reminded that smog makes a rainbow. On good days, I say that California’s been good to me. Tom Petty made Los Angeles familiar to me before I got here and while I try to avoid the prophetic “meant to be” thing in general, it’s hard not to go there when I think about where I came from, where I ended up and the Tom Petty lyrics that have followed me.
When I was planning my wedding, my dad and I were trying to find a song that would be appropriate for a father-daughter dance and we were not impressed by the choices. I refused to dance to some meaningless song when my entire childhood with my dad had been all about music. So we decided to sing instead–a song whose lyrics were wholly inappropriate for the occasion, but altogether perfect otherwise. We did the Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty duet “Insider.”
And then my dad died of what we think was a heart attack on August 24th, 2014 at the age of 64. My sister and I sang “You and I Will Meet Again” at his memorial.
And of course I knew that Tom Petty would die some day and, especially after my dad died, that it would be something that would affect me deeply. I wasn’t expecting it to happen only 2 years later and in a very similar way. Tom Petty wasn’t my dad but he was such a huge part of my dad. It felt like he died all over again. I’m left with the same angry feelings about the years we won’t have.
I remember my dad telling me he never wanted to see “greatest hits” written on a Tom Petty CD because that would mean he was done making music. And there is a greatest hits CD, of course, but he was never done.
My husband and son and I participated in the Tom Petty Memorial Vampire Walk they did on Ventura Boulevard this week. My mom convinced me to go… I hadn’t realized when it was announced that it would be the only public memorial event that would be happening. It felt good to be out with hundreds of people holding candles and singing his songs.
This hurts. This sucks. This is, again, so unfair and absolutely absurd. I am deeply saddened. He brought so much joy to my dad and to me and thousands upon thousands of people. And he’s now going to be referred to in the past tense only. I’m again finding myself wishing for a time machine that would get him to medical attention as it was happening so something might have been done to save him. And my thoughts persist this way, even though I know they’re doing nothing but making me suffer more. I can say that he’s done making music, but it will be quite a while before I will accept it.