Words and Music…

When MTV first became popular, I remember sitting with my children and watching the array of music videos offered by the network. It was 1981 and groups like A Flock of Seagulls, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Scandal danced across the television screen but, the more it played,  I found myself connected to the words and music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

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“Breakdown”, “Here Comes My Girl”, “You Got Lucky”, “The Waiting”, “A Woman in Love”….all with Tom Petty’s smooth Southern rock style.  And, the totally out-of-the-box “Don’t Come Around Here No More” with its Alice in Wonderland theme and bizarre Alice “cake” served at the video’s end.  Disturbing but oh, so entertaining! 



There was something about his spunk, his refuse-to-be defeated attitude in dealing with his professional life and the record establishment who, all too often, exerted a choke-hold on the contracted performer. When he toured on the East Coast and was in the New York area, I rushed to get tickets to every concert available and, like a typical groupie, made it a point to buy a souvenir shirt from each concert venue.  

One of the most memorable (and there were a few) was his Full Moon Fever concert at Jones Beach and the long rainy drive out where I feared the event might get cancelled.  The summer showers finally gave way to an overcast sky as the concert started. Tom strolled onto the theater’s stage and the clouds parted to reveal the most magnificent full moon.  He just put his guitar down, looked up at the moon and held his arms up to the heavens. The crowd must have yelled and cheered for more than fifteen minutes before the music could begin.

And there was his appearance at Irving Plaza in New York City in April of 1999 during his Echo tour and a trip to the concert with my very-pregnant daughter.  Neither of us realized that it was an SRO event and not a comfy environment for a woman almost eight months along the baby highway. Once inside, good old Braxton Hicks came knocking and two of the theater personnel RAN to get my daughter a chair and escorted her to sit upstairs in the balcony.  But, there I was, down on the floor looking back and waving to my daughter, determined to hold my place right in front of the stage as Tom Petty came out and started playing.  It was my moment…until I looked back again, saw her sad face, grimacing with pain, and the fun was over.  Of course, once we headed home, the contractions ceased. Of course.

Yes, it was all about his words and music.  Tom combined both elements in his own poetic way although he felt he was anything but someone possessing special powers of imagination or expression.  

I came across an interview where he told the stories behind his songs and stated that his friend Bob Dylan once told him he was a poet and Petty was flustered. “I couldn’t help feel it was like being told you’re an archer and you know you don’t even own a bow.” His reluctance to consider himself a poet is probably one of the reasons he endured as such an extraordinary and prolific songwriter. Relatively unburdened by the label of genius that has been more frequently attached to Dylan, Simon, Springsteen, and others, Petty easily leapfrogged past his first hits into a realm of previously unimagined, unencumbered songwriting, creating new songs as joyously free-falling and uncontrived as the best that rock and roll could be. Tom shared his feelings, stating that…“It’s not supposed to be that good. It’s an alternative music, rock and roll. It’s dissonant. It’s blue. It bends the notes. So how much are we going to worry about it? As long as it’s got some soul to it, it’s going to be fine. It’s so simple you can walk right by it.”

I started writing this post on October 2nd, a horrific day that dawned with a nightmare in Las Vegas and the senseless murders of 58 innocent people and injuries of hundreds more by a madman, a coward,  perched in a hotel window, intent on killing. During the day, the hapless mainstream media managed to trip and fall with reports of Tom Petty’s passing; CBS News led the group of media idiots and, late in the day, retracted their statements.  Tom was on life support but the inevitable loomed.  

He died at 8:40 p.m.  66 years young.  The music so many of us loved died with him.



Freedom of Speech…just choose your words carefully!

The riots recently in Charlottesville have created a climate of political turmoil and the questions on how any protest takes a turn into violent rioting.

Aside from what took place last week-end in Virginia, not all protesting ends in violence, in fact, the majority of protesting is done in a non-violent manner. With the right of free speech for citizens of our country, the chances of a peaceful protest do increase with the ability of people to protest freely. If you live in an authoritarian or oppressive environment, frustration and anger may tip any protest into a riot and become completely out of control.

Crowd psychology may also play into how protests grow into riots, and how those riots expand to other cities. When you are in a crowd, you are more likely to behave as others do, even if it is against your own personal belief system. And others’ behavior can be contagious–people get wrapped up in often bad behavior. Those with ulterior motives (looting, for example) take an opportunity in the midst of chaos to commit an anonymous act.

Then, we have militant, even subversive, groups like the KKK and any other so-called white supremacist organizations engaging in reprehensible behaviors under this given banner of both free speech and said right-to-protest, spewing hatred and racism with their actions. While protests are sometimes triggered by a social injustice towards an individual or group, what these militant groups are founded on go against the rights of all humans living in our country. Still, our constitution guarantees this right to protest and the results often bring a lethal outcome from groups for which antisocial behavior is the norm.  A sad commentary indeed for a country founded on freedom for all.


Taking into account this crowd psychology, those few violence-prone individuals can trigger a crowd of violent behavior. Groups afford people the anonymity to engage in behavior they wouldn’t engage in otherwise. A group’s behavior is more likely to help an individual justify going outside of their moral code.


As Americans, as decent human beings, we must condemn such behavior and come to the understanding that there is always fault on both sides of any issue based on behavioral psychology. The loss of any life is tragic but we all need to realize that any riotous situation can quickly become a war zone and the consequences can turn deadly. People rush to defend their right to speak and act freely and, with that, sensibilities and calmness are overtaken by anger.


From my perspective, the most damaging part of these situations is the fallout directed at our government and with each other, as differing opinions reach epidemic proportions in a quest to challenge so much of what cannot be changed. People demand political impeachment and resignation of our country’s president without truly realizing that they themselves are becoming engaged in this same crowd psychology of those haters who thrive on racism and violence.  


Looking at the stars….

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  The quote in her high school yearbook was just what I expected and, as I looked at her senior portrait, time stopped, just for a brief moment.


I stared at the image of this beautiful young woman, and suddenly her rapid journey of almost eighteen years went into reverse, taking me back to a sunny June morning, the day she made her worldly debut, always to be called “my Flag Day baby”.   From then on, the years have sped by as she has grown and blossomed into an extraordinary human being.  I often say that she’s an old soul, wise beyond her tender years.  Well, she is.  At least through my Grandmotherly eyes.  

In the harrowed times we’re all living in, I applaud her unflinching determination as it pertains to her future, that of this world, and the continued educational path she will follow to build a productive life.

Trust me Oscar Wilde, she is looking far beyond any of those heavenly lights.




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