At Random: Play us out

With one foot on the pedal, he was born to rebel…

Erin Christie

Morning Star Staff

In 1988, I discovered the magic of Tom Petty’s music. I was seven years old, and my parents had been separated for almost two years.

In that year, we had moved from our cozy house with a pool in the backyard, into a rent-controlled co-op where ladies with curlers in their hair yelled at us for running in the halls. I had to switch to a school where classmates squealed on you for peaking at your report card before showing it to your parents – a revelation that earned me the first of many detentions; and we had to go to a babysitter that smelled like soup and Aquanet, and only let me watch Oprah and Inside Edition.

I missed our old house. I missed my old friends, and I missed my old babysitter, Lorella, who smelled like vanilla and let me help her bake bread while we listened to Twisted Sister.

A lot about my life had changed during those years, and it was ultimately for the best. But since I was only seven, I didn’t appreciate that fact yet, and therefore was frequently frustrated by these changes.

Also, I hated Inside Edition.

But on the first Friday after school let out for the summer, my dad, who visited us every other weekend, would pick up my brother and I, bundle us into the back of his old Pontiac, toss in a cooler filled with juice boxes and other treats we weren’t usually allowed to have, and take us on our annual journey to visit my favourite grandmother.

His arrival on that afternoon was always one of the best moments of the year—the drudgery of school and my weird, smelly babysitter would be far behind me for two whole months. Life was good.

But as much as I looked forward to spending a week with Nan, the best part of the visit was always getting there. After about half an hour in the car my brother, who was only three, would fall asleep, and I would be allowed to crawl up into the front passenger seat, and Dad would push in the first of a perfectly timed succession of tapes that became part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

First up was the Rolling Stones, followed by Glen Fry, Gino Vanelli, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zepplin, Dire Straits, The Allman Brothers Band, and my favourite, Tom Petty.

From Free Fallin’ to Into the Great Wide Open, to the less popular Walls and my favourite, Square One, all of which came after 1988, from the first time I heard the opening chords of Even the Losers, his underdog anthems spoke directly to my ornery seven-year-old soul.

My dad didn’t talk to me much, but on the road he was different.

That’s when he talked to me. For those eight hours I felt like he actually liked me. He told me everything he knew about music and that became our common ground. At that time, there was nothing I loved more than sitting up front, with the windows down and the cool, night air blowing against my smiling face as I belted out the lyrics to Rebels with Dad.

His favourite album was Southern Accents, which was released in March 1985 –the year my parents split up. Interestingly enough, the creation of that particular album was apparently fraught with as much turmoil as my parents’ marriage itself. We survived by listening to Tom Petty’s music, he survived by writing it.

When Tom Petty passed away earlier this week we lost another great musical talent. He gave the world the kind of songs that everyone can relate to and sing along to. He taught me and my dad that rock’n’roll, like life, is full of infinite possibilities.

Plays us out Tom….

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