Tom Petty’s Legacy

Yesterday, when everyone thought Tom Petty was dead, hours before he actually did ascend to Rock and Roll Heaven, WTOP interviewed Bob Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. The newscaster repeatedly asked Thompson to discuss Petty’s “influence.” Each time, Thompson nimbly sidestepped the question to discuss Petty’s significance.

Tom Petty was not influential.

This in no way diminishes the man or his music, or even his large role in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. But Petty was not an originator, or even a trendsetter. Instead, he was traditionalist who proudly cited (and sometimes covered) those who influenced him: Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Byrds:

He earned his place among his idols, the legends Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys, . . .

. . . toured with Dylan and recently co-produced former-Byrd Chris Hillman’s upcoming album, Bidin’ My Time.

At a time when most of those who still played rock in a new pop age treated it as a museum piece to be “revived,” either meticulously recreating the details while losing the soul or “curating” the quaint old music with a hipster wink, Tom Petty kept “real” rock ‘n’ roll alive and vital. And that is a pretty significant accomplishment.

But even if he had little influence in the sense of birthing a generation of “new Pettys,” as there were once so many “new Dylans,” although a case could be made for Haim, whose “Little of Your Love” hints they’ve listened to Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” more than a few times, . . .

. . . it does not mean that Tom Petty has not been and will not continue to be hugely inspiring:


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