This One’s For Tom Petty Fans

Kristina Kehrer's picture

A Conversation with Steve Morse of the Boston Globe

Over the last couple of years as we have lost our rock & roll icons and symbols of our youth and rebellion, I uttered the most unfortunate words, “At least I won’t have to worry about Tom for a while.”

On October 2, 2017, my boss at NeighborMedia, Frank Morris Lopez, was the one to break it to me via text message. Tom Petty had been rushed to UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, CA having suffered cardiac arrest and showing no brain activity.

I didn’t believe it, just like I didn’t believe the recent revelation that Tom had a bout of heroin addiction, while struggling through a divorce. Why? Because Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were, in my relationship with them, a place of mystical innocence where things like death and addiction didn’t exist – only pure, unadulterated, perfectly crafted Rock & Roll.

Rock & Roll not associated with death and addiction, how absurd right? Well, yes, but Tom and the Heartbreakers were first and foremost, luminary musicians who put on live shows that were on par with a shamanistic journey. Indeed a journey that went straight to the pains of life, but also transcended it with great hooks and guitar leads.

The fact is I had been worried about Tom for some time. After seeing his last two shows at the Boston Garden in July, my worry was amped up. As a super-fan, I desperately needed to talk to someone who knew Tom or might have some insight into his death.

Steve Morse was the Boston Globe’s rock critic for 30 years. He first saw Tom & the Heartbreakers in 1976 at a small club on Boylston Street in Boston called the Jazz Workshop. He met Tom that night and interviewed him many times throughout both their careers. Morse has seen every Petty show since 1976, so this was the guy for me.

Boston can take pride in the fact that the groundbreaking radio station WBCN, now defunct, was the first radio station in the country to play one of Petty’s best-known and biggest hits “Breakdown.”