Happy Monday, everyone.
Today’s cmd+vent calendar letter lends on a more somber note than the previous letters we’ve tapped into so far. It’s deeply personal and an extremely special letter to be sharing with you folks, and I’m so grateful to introduce you to my friend Brittany.
Brittany and I met in college through a mutual friend, and instantly hit it off (likely having the same name helped) – though it was kept merely on a very cordial acquaintance level for a bit. After pleading for help to move into my apartment seemingly into the ether on my Tumblr, this kind soul who mostly knew me for posting archival Raf Simons and Tilda Swinton photos for the past year and a half on the internet, offered to help me move into my apartment in Seattle.
The rest of the year delved into discussing art, having very niche Jamie Bell film dates at her apartment, and sharing music recommendations. After I graduated college, I moved back home to LA. Around Thanksgiving of that year, Brittany made her big move to LA to stake her claim in Hollywood. I returned the favor and helped her move into a cramped apartment in Toluca Lake.
We have rather loud modifiers both B and I can associate each other with. I’m sure for me she’d name Raf Simons and Tom Ford’s A Single Man. For Brittany, I associate her with the Southwest desert and Tom Petty.
We’ve lost so many legends in music over the past couple years, and I know the sudden loss of Tom Petty hit Brittany hard.
I now leave with you her heartfelt reflections of Tom Petty’s impact on her life with his music.
Tom Petty’s album Full Moon Fever dropped in the spring of ’89 and so did I. About ten years later, I’d ask my mom about my initials – B.A.D.? Who signed off on that? – and she pulled out that album. It had been on repeat during her last weeks of pregnancy. She played “Yer So Bad” and explained that when Tom said “bad,” he meant the best. He meant beyond. And she sang to me, like she always did: “But not me, baby / I’ve got you to save me / Yeah, yer so bad / Best thing I ever had / In a world gone mad, yer so bad.”
In elementary school I had Full Moon Fever on cassette and a Playskool tape-deck stereo with a detachable microphone and that was all I needed. “The Apartment Song” was on Side 2. I’d listen to it over and over, just six Mississippis to rewind. Probably still to this day, if you asked my family for my favorite Tom track, they’d say “The Apartment Song”. In a way it probably is.
When an officer pulled me over for going nearly felony-miles- per-hour over the speed limit on a deserted stretch of Oregon highway at 2:00am, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” softly scored his writing me my first ever speeding ticket. I could have sworn he was smiling. Another important teenage first did not include Tom (in point of fact we were listening to Coldplay’s Parachutes album, or part of it), but I did listen to “Crawling Back to You” as I drove myself home, feeling both very lonely and very young.
In the summer of 2008, the girl who would become my best friend and I “met” at a Tom Petty show at the Gorge in Washington. We had lived in the same dorm freshman year, but had never hung out. We texted on our flip phones, agreeing to walk to the merch stand at the start of song five and say hello. The fifth song that night was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, and – to paraphrase the immortal words of J.K. Rowling – there are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and listening to Tom Petty go full fucking savage on a Van Morrison track is one of them. A few years later when Bri and I were roommates and of legal drinking age, we would get ready to go out, swaying around the pre-game to “Honey Bee” and “Cabin Down Below,” sultry, dirty rock tracks that – P.S. – still do the trick, if you’re in the market for that sort of thing.
Getting involved in a heady, tumultuous relationship with a guitar player in college is a 20/10 Do Recommend if you’re hoping to accumulate a very extravagant and chaotic emotional palate for later use as a television writer. My suggested method? Break up and get back together as often as you can, and be sure to define each step with Petty songs: “Breakdown” and “A Thing About You” and “You Wreck Me” when things are good; “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” when you’re being sloppy little punks. Take the time to listen to the Wildflowers album together at least once a week. And whatever you do, don’t forget to move to L.A. several years in, return for a visit one Christmas, go to one of his shows, and hear him dedicate “The Wild One, Forever” just to you. After your week-long dissociative episode, you’ll have ascended to a higher plane of existence. Easy as pie.
On Monday, September 25th, 2017 a girlfriend of mine and I watched from the nosebleeds of the Hollywood Bowl as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed the final date of their 40th Anniversary Tour. I had snagged tickets just two days before, breaking my tenuous vow of frugality, knowing if the boys were in town and I didn’t see ‘em I’d regret it. And I would have. Everyone was in high spirits and top form. They played the hell out of dozens of songs – a few from deep, deep in the archives – living up to Tom’s greeting at the top of the show: “We’re thinking we just want to treat tonight like a big vinyl record and put the needle down wherever we want.” From the first beat through the final chord, the audience was thunderous and electric. We floated home. It was Tom Petty’s last show. He died seven days later.
I was at work in the writers’ room when rumors of his cardiac arrest began to spread. Despite the unconfirmed nature of the news, my phone – on vibrate in my purse – began to hum. It buzzed fitfully for the rest of the day. I placed a palm over it, willing it still. I held my emotion tightly in my throat. Over the next couple days, more than forty family members and friends reached out to me, sharing condolences or a song or a memory or just a “fuck, dude.” And though it felt (and feels?) inane and selfish to be mourning a man I never met, I was stunned and so grateful to hear from all these people I loved. Knowing the folks who know me best – who have witnessed my life – thought of me that day… it made me feel less inane, less selfish. A little less nuts for crying in my car that week to endless repetitions of “Alright for Now” (no Mississippis, just one button on my ergonomic steering wheel).
Bruce Springsteen distilled it, elegant in its simplicity, just the way you’d expect him to: “Good songs stay written. Good records stay made. [Petty] made a lot of great music, enough to carry people forward.” The overwhelming feeling I have now is gratitude. Grateful to be carried forward by “Into the Great Wide Open” and “Time to Move On” and “A Mind with a Heart of it’s Own”. And if this letter inspires you to listen to any one song, let it be “It’ll All Work Out”: “Now the wind is high and the rain is heavy / And the water’s rising in the levee / Still I think of her when the sun goes down / It never goes away, but it all works out”
Rest easy, Thomas Earl Petty.
You can listen to every song mentioned in this letter in a single, convenient playlist right here
Stay tuned for Day 7 of the cmd+vent calendar dropping tomorrow!