— Catharina Quinlan-Botterop
He was “a friend when I had none”
Tom Petty was a friend when I had none. It was 1993 and I was an awkward young teenager. Introverted and neither pretty, nor stylish, nor smart, I never fit in with any crowd in school.
Then, at 12, I discovered rock ’n’ roll through Tom Petty.
My parents had gifted me a Sony Walkman. I’d been getting relentlessly teased on the school bus. Kids would spit on me, call me “dog,” throw things at me, tell me things like, “just die because you’re worthless,” you name it.
I remember the order of the songs that took me to and from junior high school every day on that 40-minute ride: In the mornings, “American Girl,” “Breakdown,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “I Need to Know,” “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Even the Losers,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “The Waiting,” and “You Got Lucky” on the ride in. In the afternoons, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Free Fallin’,” “Learning to Fly,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and “Something in the Air” on the way home.
— Kari Banach
“I suddenly felt I wasn’t alone”
Two years ago, at 61, my lifelong addiction to alcohol caught up with me and my life began to spin out of control.
Two heart attacks, loss of job, savings, and soon a roof over my head, brought me to a place of incomprehensible despair and loneliness. I wanted to end it all.
As I sat my kitchen table one late afternoon shaking apart, I somehow had the strength to call 911 before I did something tragic.
While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, for some strange reason I clicked on “Learning to Fly” on YouTube. I suddenly felt I wasn’t alone and that somehow I would be all right.
Now, two years later, I find myself sober, and life is taking on a richness I never thought was my due. Today, whenever I get low, I think of that song and know that whatever we go through in life, we are not alone. R.I.P. Tom, and thank you.
— Kurt S.
“I found myself in his songs”
I am from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and I remember being in a bar in Dublin in the late ’90s, when the D.J. played “Free Fallin’.” I was a 22-year-old college graduate trying to “find myself” by backpacking across Europe.
Many with Irish accents so thick I could barely decipher what they were saying were singing this Tom Petty song at the top of their lungs. They knew every single word by heart. Reseda, Mulholland, Ventura Boulevard, Tom Petty had people all over the world singing about my hometown and it felt like they were singing about me, about my own experiences, about my first boyfriend, about horse-loving me.
He put my life to song and put my town on the map for all the world to experience. Halfway around the world, I “found myself” in his songs, and it made me feel almost famous; he brought me free-fallin’ back home from the inside of a Dublin bar.
— Heidi Eisips
“It became my personal mantra” after 9/11
The company I worked for on 9/11 lost 65 of my fellow co-workers. I was one of the many lucky ones who made it out. It was a difficult time for myself and of course many, many others. When Petty appeared on a televised tribute concert, he performed “I Won’t Back Down.”
It gave me the hope at that critical time that as an American, we would pull together to get through the most difficult time possibly we have ever faced as a county since World War II. It became my personal mantra in many ways.
— Ernie Vogt
“The only time I ever shoplifted”
For a generation of us, Tom Petty was the soundtrack of being 15 in Los Angeles. “Full Moon Fever” wasn’t playing during my first kiss, but my memory tricks me into thinking it was. The only time I ever shoplifted in my life was a used cassette of “Damn the Torpedoes” and I confessed to my parents the next day. When I worked all summer to buy my dream guitar, it was the blonde Rickenbacker 6 string that Tom Petty plays in “The Waiting” video.
— Michael Oates Palmer
“Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been”
My favorite was “Handle With Care.” I’d just gotten out of nine years of abuse in a relationship. It took two years before I was ready to date again and I would spend a great amount of time playing “I Won’t Back Down” over and over.
I learned what I really wanted in a relationship and what I wouldn’t tolerate ever again. When I found a man suitable for my tastes I would on occasion play “Handle With Care” hoping that he’d get the message. He did, and now I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
“I struggled through a few years”
My husband died suddenly in 2005.
I struggled through a few years, undoing the life I’d strived to build for myself and my teenage sons the best way I knew how.
In mid-2007, I rediscovered Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” C.D. and listened to two songs over and over: For the feelings I felt my sons may be suffering, “To Find a Friend”; and for me, “Wildflowers.”
— Denise Banker