Leonie Cooper offers a fond farewell to her middle-aged man hero
I have a thing for grizzly middle-aged men. Bruce Springsteen. Tom Waits. Neil Young. Men who look a bit like they’re coming out of the other side of their second divorce. Men who smell like woodsmoke and whiskey. Men who just bought a motorbike but have decided to leave it in the garage for the time being, because their hips aren’t what they once were. These are my guys. Tom Petty, of course, was 100 percent one of these guys. His freewheelin’ Americana was the perky flipside to the more contemplative music of his contemporaries. He wrote music for road-trips, Saturday nights at the bar and for utterly shameless flirting. Tom Petty was the happy chappy of the gang, the Florida-born rock’n’roll renegade whose way with a pop-leaning melody was unsurpassed.
Despite being a fan since my teens, I only saw him live for the first time earlier this year, at Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival, and it was everything I’d ever dreamed of. For what was to be his final UK performance he pulled out all the stops. His old pal Stevie Nicks came out to duet on ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’. He wore a waistcoat. Accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s old backing singers he rolled through a magnificently moody version of ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’. He finished up with a huge sing-along, spin-along version of ‘American Girl’. For two epic hours a scrubby field in central London was transformed into a small-town American dive. I sang with strangers. I hugged my pals. It was live music at its finest.
At 66 years old Tom certainly wasn’t expected to shuffle off towards the great big jukebox in the sky so soon. At Hyde Park he looked fit, healthy and more than capable of playing for another two hours at least – in fact, I’m kind of gutted he didn’t. What were to be his final shows happened only a week ago, three nights at Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood Bowl, wrapping up his and his band The Heartbreakers 40th anniversary celebration tour. “I want to thank you so much for 40 really good years,” he said at the end of the opening show, signing off in the state that he called home with grace, style and loads of massive tunes. Thank you for the music Tom – you were definitely one of the good guys.
A playlist featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty and Traveling Wilburys