“I got a room at the top of the world tonight
I can see everything tonight
I got a room where everyone
Can have a drink and forget those things
That went wrong in their life”
— Tom Petty, “Room at the Top,” from ECHO (1999)
Music is uniquely singular and universal; it is the power of the language to transcend boundaries and speak to all as it speaks to one. Few spoke as personally and universally as Tom Petty. And few had as good a time doing it.
The power of geniuses is that they operate on three planes: theirs, as the works they create are for themselves first, because they simply must (“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men—that is genius,” Emerson said); the collective world, as their works are heard/seen/read/studied by many or even all at one point in their lives (again, Emerson: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”); and our own personal listening.
Tom Petty operated across all three with equal aplomb.
For all of his innumerable classics, it is his rarely-played 1999 album, ECHO, that remains the most important to me. It was my gateway drug to all of his music, to his thoughtful and relentless crusades against artistic injustice wrought by record companies and publishers. It is a distillation of him: vulnerable, relentless, rocking. Seeing him in concert the following year was a revelation: an artist fully in command of his talents with an unparalleled connection to his audience and his band.
A line in a 2000 interview in the Oxford American, published shortly after the release of ECHO, distills Tom Petty to his essence and longevity: “I just don’t want to do anything that I can’t feel like I’m doing honestly.” Tom Petty did everything with a stark honesty; his music will remain a roadmap to his path and the immortal sounds with which he left us.
Oh my my, oh hell yes.