Learning to Fly – a repeat tribute to Tom Petty

Our friend Clive inspired me to repeat this old post written before Tom Petty died at only the age of 65. His post of yesterday can be linked to below.

If you ever want to see an entertaining concert, I encourage you to go see Tom Petty. He is an under-appreciated musician, singer and songwriter as the number of songs of his that are part of our musical lexicon are staggering. Better than many, he and his band the Heartbreakers mix words and music in a very memorable way. And, his genuine persona seems to resonate with people, which may be one reason he does not come across larger than life, which is indeed a compliment.

As I was scrolling through his vast inventory of songs, I came to the realize what makes his songs so memorable. They start with great music, but endure through some of the best written chorus stanzas based on people or situations we all find ourselves in. A good example is the title of this post, “Learning to Fly.” Here is a sample:

I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
Comin’ down is the hardest thing
I’m learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up must come down

These words could take on so many meanings, but the song is about a young man who is beginning his life away from home. He knows life will be rough, but he wants to go make it on his own.

Carrying this theme further is “Into the Great Wide Open,” whose chorus is below:

Into the great wide open,
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open,
A rebel without a clue

This song notes he may be aware of troubles ahead, but for the most part he is “a rebel without a clue.”

Probably one of his most memorable songs is “Refugee.” This song resonates with so many, as it tells a story of helping each other out, especially when life has stepped on you:

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have
Kicked you around some
Tell me why you wanna lay there,
Revel in your abandon

Honey, it don’t make no difference to me
Baby, everybody’s had to fight to be free
You see, you don’t have to live like a refugee
No baby, you don’t have to live like a refugee

Yet, he also shows how he could mistreat someone who did not deserve it leaving the offender in a free fall, when he realizes what he did. “Free Fallin” tells a story of this good girl he left behind:

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

It’s a long day living in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin

Yet, true love can be found, but it does take time. In “The Waiting,” Petty tells us how love can be dreamlike, but waiting for it to come, is the hardest part:

Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now
Don’t it feel like somethin’ from a dream
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again
We know better than to try and pretend
Baby no one could have ever told me ’bout this

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

There are so many songs to choose from, which I have left off: “An American Girl,” “Breakdown,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Runnin Down a Dream,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That,” just to name a few more. Let me close with one where he stands his ground and fights back when life knocks him down. Here is the chorus from “I Won’t Back Down:”

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

Tom Petty ranks up there with some of his idols that so influenced him. He joined several on the facetiously named, but excellent group The Traveling Wilbury’s, which included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. His words and music will remain with us, just like those of his fellow Wilbury’s. He may not have written as eloquently as Dylan, but Petty wrote about life and people. Thanks for helping us realize we are all learning to fly. And, we don’t have wings.

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20 thoughts on “Learning to Fly – a repeat tribute to Tom Petty

  1. I really enjoyed Tom Petty’s music. I remember singing this song with my friends at the top of our lungs while on a road trip to the beach, the car’s windows cranked down. So many wonderful songs.

  2. Just those few examples show what a great songwriter Tom was, and he had the knack of making choruses that demanded that you sing along with them. There are so many others like that in his catalogue, aren’t there. Thank you for the link to my post, much appreciated 😊

  3. One of the finest song writers, vocalist and entertainer.
    Sheila was the first to alert me to him back in the 1970s. ‘Southern Accents’ sung with so much meaning and feeling, then there was ‘Straight Into Darkness’ a classic song over the pain of break-up:

    There was a little girl, I used to know her
    I still think about her, time to time
    There was a moment when I really loved her
    Then one day the feeling just died

    We went straight into darkness
    Out over the line
    Yeah straight into darkness
    Straight into night

    I remember flying out to London
    I remember the feeling at the time
    Out the window of the 747
    Man there was nothin’, only black sky

    We went straight into darkness
    Out over the line
    Yeah straight into darkness
    Straight into night

    Oh give it up to me, I need it hey
    Girl, I know a good thing when I see it
    Baby wrong or right, I need it hey

    I don’t believe the good times are over
    I don’t believe the thrill is all gone
    Real love is a man’s salvation
    The weak ones fall the strong carry on

    Straight into darkness
    Out over the line
    Yeah straight into darkness
    Straight into night

    We went straight into darkness
    Out over the line
    Yeah straight into darkness
    Straight into night

  4. Wow … I don’t think I ever realized what a repertoire Tom Petty had! I must re-visit him and his music. Clive suggested the Traveling Wilburys to me last week and I’m planning one of theirs in the next day or two. Thanks for the reminder about Tom Petty, my friend!

  5. I love the songs you listed here and I just noticed that I was not aware that they all were by Tom Petty. Most of all “Into the great wide open” and “Learning to fly” have been speaking to me since I listened a bit closer. Thank you for sharing the songs. I love them all!

  6. Note to Readers: When we got to see Tom Petty perform, it was a treat as it was late in his career (and sadly his life) and he seemed to savor the experience. What also is cool, he performed following an opening act by Steve Winwood. That is two big stars with large bodies of excellent work.

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