I’m one of many people who started mourning too early. But even after it became clear that the reports were premature, it felt like a bad episode of a medical drama. People around me crying, Wait, wait! He’s not dead! We can save him. And me thinking, he’s gone, but you just can’t see it yet. On a practical level, it was because, it wasn’t a hoax that he had been found unconscious following cardiac arrest. That’s not something you come back from. As Christopher Hitchens said after being asked about his prospects after being diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, there’s not a stage 5. Miracles happen, but the world doesn’t feel very miraculous right now. We have inched closed to nuclear because of the rage tweets of a thin-skinned man child; another angry white man with a guy massacred dozens of people and we won’t do anything about gun control; and more, but I’m just not up to it, right now.
Tom Petty’s death affected me more than the horror in Las Vegas. It’s attributed to Stalin, but who knows if he ever said: one death is a tragedy, but a millions deaths are a statistic. And mass shootings feel like a statistic now. It’s just one of the costs of living of America, like toxic drinking water and institutional racism. We are just supposed to be grateful, right?
I felt like I knew Tom Petty. He was from Florida. He was the greatest songwriter of the last thirty-five or forty years. Every song on Damn the Torpedoes is amazing. No isn’t reassured by Don’t Back Down. Which is probably the song we need right now.
But I feel like backing down. I’ve been feeling that way for a while.
My child will never know Tom Petty. I try to make my child appreciate American Girl, but I’m not sure it will work. My child will be an American Girl, but also not. But mostly, my child will be from a place where Tom Petty, in a sense, does not exist. Which is a reminder of my own mortality. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities wrote about the moment where the number of dead, a person know, outnumbers the living. I’m not close to that yet. Not by decades. But I can see the balance shifting. Tom Petty has shifted to the other balance.