When Petty died, a part of music did too

Olivia Swenson-Hultz, Columnist

Last Monday, the world was left in shock after Tom Petty was rushed to the hospital because of cardiac arrest and was unceremoniously pulled off of life support.

Petty founded the southern roots band Mudcrunch in 1970, which eventually evolved into the multifaceted rock ‘n’ roll band, The Heartbreakers.

The Heartbreakers possessed a hint of southern rock paired with bouncy blues beats and punk influence.

Born amongst the swamps of Florida, Petty was inspired at a young age to pursue music through his love of rock ‘n’ roll and after an encounter with Elvis Presley, he brought his dream into action.

Petty presented himself as a cynical rock ‘n’ roll outlaw while still managing to provide the comfort of everybody’s favorite rock star, combining down-home roots with new wave ambience.

Petty used tools like dark glasses and a top hat to create a surreal savageness that projected him as an icon.

His ambiguity made him the perfect gatekeeper of the lost highways and faraway freedom that he sang about. He urged his fans to escape their corporate lifestyles to pursue a life of uncertainty.

Petty spent the 80s and 90s demonstrating his versatility, collaborating with folk artists such as Bob Dylan and touring with punk bands like The Replacements.

Petty was into doing things his way, which helped him fit into the punk crowd.

His southern drawl and down-home sound helped him pair perfectly with folksy artists.

This led to years of remakes of Petty songs from modern country singers.

Petty also made a presence for himself on MTV by crafting creative music videos that visualize him in his own little world, like taking fans on tours through morgues and geometrically shaped rooms. Petty was a master of setting an eerie mood and guiding fans into the unknown.

I had the opportunity to see Petty at Summer Camp Music Festival in 2016. He played a variety of folksy tunes with his original band. I was impressed with his versatility, but I was disappointed that I did not get to hear any of his famous Heartbreakers hits.

Just months ago, I got to see him again, during his last tour when he came to Champaign to perform with The Heartbreakers. Accompanied by Joe Walsh, he established a runaway rock flavor of the night.

Petty was an energetic presence on stage, dancing along with his back up girls as he performed 40 years of Heartbreakers hits.

This nostalgic show featured tunes from The Heartbreakers namesake album to Wild Flowers. Petty was not afraid to stretch the show throughout multiple encores to avoid missing a hit single, as well as slipping in some personal favorites and finishing the set list with a much anticipated final encore of American Girl.

Then Petty turned his back on the stage and disappeared into the ages of rock ‘n’ role history and lost highway dreams.

Olivia Swenson-Hultz is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812