Tom Petty, 1950-2017.

Writer: Abigail Rice.

Tom Petty came to the Schottenstein Center in June. Four months ago, I watched from the rafters as he performed hit after hit, gut-wrenching ballad after foot-stomping rock number. After a remarkable performance, I remember walking away numb and disappointed. It wasn’t until much later that I would realize why.

For those of us who grew up listening to Tom Petty, his songs sound tracked life’s pivotal moments: driving country roads, slamming doors on parents who didn’t quite understand, a first kiss and a first heartbreak.


That night, sitting in an arena of thousands, I waited to hear those moments. How could the goons next to me possibly sing along? Romanticism or fallacy, those songs had always been mine. But there lies the magic of all great artists--their ability to empathize. “Out of a dream, out of the sky/ Into my heart, into my life/ And you were just a face in the crowd,” sang Petty on a “A Face in the Crowd.”

He grew up in Gainesville, Florida, born to an abusive father and mother who died early in his career. Toothy, blond and southern, the odds were stacked against him. Perhaps that’s what makes every great rock ‘n’ roll story: a reminder that even the losers get lucky sometimes.

As is the case for any piece of art, we crave specificity. There is no heart in vague abstractions. The greatest lyricists are, first and foremost, storytellers. They captivate us by making us care. Whether it’s a character, place or feeling, we take shelter in these things, retreating from our own lives. If only for a moment, we don’t have to live like refugees.

I remember frantically bargaining with God at the thought of living in a world without Petty. I swear I heard someone laugh, “I got a room at the top of the world tonight. I can see everything tonight.”

From every scraggly kid with a record player, bad attitude and a dream, thank you Tom Petty.

Enjoy the view.