I tend to have a fairly clinical reaction to death. Death is, in fact, an indisputable part of life. So, I certainly don’t usually find myself mourning the death of a famous person, but Tom Petty is a different story. I can tell you that I loved Tom Petty, like so many others, but it really goes far beyond commonplace rock star adulation. The truth is, Tom Petty saved my life.
Watching his Wonderland themed video for Don’t Come Around Here No More was the first time I was transfixed by the scrawny Florida native. What is this? Who is he? Please, may I have some more? From then on, Tom Petty was a musical staple in my life.
His songs seemed to play in the background all the days of my life. American Girl. Don’t Back Down. Refugee. Don’t Do Me Like That. The Waiting. Radio repeats never got old, just gave me another chance to sing along softly to myself.
1996 was a big year for me, the space in time when it seems my life truly began. 1996 was the year I became a mother. Like we all dream, I had visions of snuggling my infant, smelling that sweet baby smell from the wisps of hair atop her head, marveling over tiny fingers and toes. Colic did its best to rewrite that story and soon after giving birth my days and my nights were filled with incurable wails and fits.
It is told to us mothers that we possess the ability to know what our babies need, that anything can be solved with a bottle or a blanket or nap. That isn’t so for colic. There is little you can do other than cry alongside your ruby faced babe and wait for it to pass. You can swaddle them, you can burp them, sing to them, pray for them, love them, and it never helps. Nothing ever helps, nothing except for Tom Petty.
After being transfixed yet again by his single It’s Good To Be King, I went out and purchased the Wildflowers CD. It was a life changing decision. Wildflowers is an absolute masterpiece, but I never imagined it could work magic. I discovered that it could one sleepless and fitful night.
I’d spent many nights, many hours walking my sweet babe around, desperate to soothe her cries for her comfort and my sanity. So many nights, just pacing back and forth, hoping that she would wear out before I would. One night, having run out of energy and ideas, I hit play and the rest is history.
From the first note of the single, Wildflowers, my baby was mesmerized. The child that could not, would not be quieted lay in my arms in awe, peaceful and still. I sat in the rocking chair and hummed along, a rare moment of rest for us both.
For countless nights I rocked my tiny baby listening to Tom Petty sing of kings and wildflowers and love and loss. In those notes and melodies, I fell in love. I had the space to become intoxicated by that sweet baby smell, beguiled by tiny fingers and toes. It was in those nights that I truly became a mother.
Eventually colic ends, as it did with my baby. Before long she was sleeping through the night and there was no need for Tom to sing us lullabies. The CD was put away, others began playing in rotation. My baby grew up and developed her own sense of musical taste, but was always told the story of how Tom Petty saved our lives. She’s an adult now, living far from home, but was the first person I contacted when I learned he was close to death.
I still have that Wildflowers CD. It has been packed up in countless boxes to every new address we ended up at. The case is cracked and scratched, it’s battle scarred for sure. The only CD player I have left is in the car, which is the perfect venue for Wildflowers. A long ride and a gauzy, burnt orange sunset its perfect accompaniments.
I still listen to that CD. I make excuses to travel further than I need to just to listen to Tom Petty sing, to relive the peace I found in those sleepless nights. I remember how his voice, his words cast a spell on my baby and I, how he gave me the space to love being a mother, how he saved our lives from colic.
I’m listening now. I’m remembering. I’m rocking back and forth with that tiny baby, when life was heavenly. Her sweet smell, her tiny hands, she was perfection, and it was because of Tom Petty that I was able to feel that.
I’m listening now. I’m remembering, but right now life is far from heavenly. I’m listening now and my heart is broken. My tears can’t stop. I’m in mourning. I’m listening and I am remembering. I’m listening and remembering how Tom Petty saved my life.