We Killed Tom Petty And It Sucks
I was visibly shaken when I heard the news of the death of Thomas Earl Petty on October 2.
It's easy to think of your heroes as forever people. You just assume they're going to be around as long as you are. This is ridiculous, of course. Hundreds of music icons have left us before they were supposed to - Prince, Elvis Presley, Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Kurt Cobain, Dolores O'Riordan (Cranberries), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden).
Petty's early hit "Breakdown" was one of the first songs our band learned in middle school. Over the years his work has been part of the soundtrack to our lives, and part of the set lists of numerous subsequent bands I started.
I heard a reviewer on NPR describe one particular Petty masterpiece in an appreciation which aired soon after his death. "Here Comes My Girl" had it all: introspection, revealed in the spoken word parts of the verses, escalating to a feverish lyrical exasperation which climaxes with a tender melodic chorus. I've heard this song a trillion times and it was pretty much burned out for me until I heard it described that way. It made me appreciate it again as if I was hearing it for the first time.
What made me so sad about Petty's death is the fact that we killed him.
Opioids. Fentanyl, oxycodone, acetyl fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl were found in his system after a recent autopsy. The dude was playing shows with a broken hip. He didn't want to cancel the dates. Unbelievable, honorable and tragic.
What I mean by "we" is our society did it. We are the most entitled, stressed out, over-medicated society in the world. The Centers for Disease Control tells us deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999. Drug overdose deaths used to be rare. They are now the #1 way people accidentally kill themselves in the US - more than car crashes, guns and HIV.
You start taking them. You need more. Then you need them more often. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies have been willing dealers/dispensers of these poisons. Not all understood how fast patients could get hooked, but it'll take a lot to convince me Big Pharma didn't know the lure of these pills and chose to make billions from their sale anyway.
Tom Petty was in pain, he was trying to play through it, and the drugs killed him.
We killed him.
Tom's not in pain anymore. His work will live on forever. But it didn't have to end this way.