Why do we feel such loss when someone we don’t know passes away?
I can’t even count how many messages I’ve received, sending condolences my way, on the passing of Tom Petty.
I wasn’t fortunate to have had a chance to meet the man, but many who have say; if you know the music, you know the man, so, in a strange way, I feel like I’ve lost a friend. A friend that never met me, but has been speaking to me through his music for more than 40 years.
The moment I heard of Tom’s passing was very surreal and it hit me like a ton of bricks. For the last year, I’ve been fronting a Tom Petty tribute band called We Ain’t Petty. I was in the middle of playing and singing “Listen to Her Heart” when I saw my phone light up. I can still see the words in the text; “Tom Petty found unconscious, rushed to hospital” followed by “It’s all over”. How could this be? He just wrapped up a successful tour. He was on top of his game. When I saw him perform in Toronto this past summer he looked and sounded great. As the day went on, there were reports that he was in fact, still alive. I suddenly had hope…maybe it was just a nasty rumour. A few years ago, it was reported that Gordon Lightfoot had passed away, but lo and behold, he’s still very much alive. Sadly, that wasn’t the case with Tom Petty. By that evening the news was confirmed, and for the second time that day, I was hit with the news that the man I pay tribute to on stage, was gone.
Other musicians whose passing hit me like this were John Lennon and David Bowie. I was a huge fan of both and the unexpectedness made it so much more hard hitting. I was only 12 when Lennon was shot, but I still remember the exact moment I heard the news on the radio. Bowie was just as unexpected, but as we later learned, he had been ill for quite some time. As for Petty, there’s still some unanswered questions, but the bottom line is he’s not coming back.
So why are we so affected by the death of someone famous; someone we’ve never met?
Here’s my theory:
Other than my family, music is my number 1 passion. My earliest memories are often accompanied by a soundtrack; spinning records in my room, making mixed tapes and then learning to play an instrument. At times it’s simply pleasant background noise, but for artists like Tom Petty, The Beatles and David Bowie, their music meant so much more to me personally.
When I was feeling down, I could listen to one of their albums with headphones on, sit back and completely get lost in the music, forgetting all my troubles. When things were going great, and I felt like singing, I could crank up the music in the car.
Celebrities aren’t superheroes; their lives were no more important than anyone else’s, but for me personally, losing those 3 musicians, felt like losing friends. They never let me down, were always there when I needed them, and even with them gone from this world, I can still put on one of their records and bring them back to life.
That’s the wonderful thing about music, it’s always there.
My mood can completely change from down to motivated by simply listening to a song. Music is timeless too. Tom Petty’s debut album from 1976 is as relevant to me today as it was the first time I dropped the needle on the record.
No, I’ve never met Tom Petty, but whenever I need him, or Lennon, or Bowie, I know exactly where to find them.
Thank You, Tom, John and David…for all you’ve done and all you will continue to do for me.
They may be mortal, but their music lives forever.