I became friends with a guy named Al. He worked at J&R Music World. I showed up every Friday with my allowance and bought three records for $9.97. Back then, a new record, $6.98 list, was priced at $3.69 in J&R. They also had a small area behind the front door, to the left, where they sold budget records for $1.69. Every Friday, I would race downtown and buy two new records and one budget record, and leave myself $.03 for the week.
Al got a kick out of me. One Friday, he held up a copy of the first Tom Petty record and said, "Buy this. It's the greatest rock and roll band in the world." I looked at the picture on the cover and asked, "Is that YOU?" Al looked liked Tom Petty. He laughed and said, "No. I live on Sullivan Street." I didn't buy the record, but Al and I remained friends, always talking music, especially on the day I bought Steely Dan's "Aja," which was priced at $4.49, and threw off my whole pricing scheme. "What gives?" Al informed me it was the first $7.98 list record that he had seen. I remember almost every trip to, and every record I bought at J&R and every time I listen to Tom Petty, I think of Al and how he wasn't so far off base with his proclamation about The Heartbreakers.
It always takes a death to motivate the living, especially in music. For weeks after David Bowie's death, you couldn't find a copy of "Ziggy Stardust" for less than $100, a record that sold regularly for $25. In 2002, on Bowie's NYC Marathon" tour, where he a played a small club in each of the five boros, I saw him play three times. (I skipped Staten Island and Queens.) "Jimmy's Bronx Cafe" was 3/4 full...for David Bowie. I stood to the left on a cat walk and was able to freely make my way up to the front of the stage a number of times during the performance. I stood in front of David Bowie, with room to breathe. I could see the color of his socks, that's how close I was. It's hard to believe, but it's true. No one gave a crap about David Bowie from 1989 until his death in 2016.
So here we are again, binge listening to another artist whose untimely death has rattled the music world. And here am I, guilty as ever, rediscovering the Tom Petty records I own but thought I didn't care for. Even as a fan, I never liked "A Woman In Love," and "The Waiting," great the first 10,000 times I heard it, was something I thought I never needed to hear again. So, "Hard Promises" never gets pulled off the shelf. But it did yesterday. It's fantastic. I am listening chronologically and taking notes on the songs that seem new to me. I'm already excited by the list.
So back to Al and J&R for a minute. He played "Breakdown" for me that first day and I hated it. I still don't like it and once I realized it was a direct rip of "Cheating" by The Animals, I hated it even more. I never bought Tom Petty's debut. But my friend and neighbor Frank, someone I spent hundreds of hours with, just drinking beer and spinning records, played "Hurt" for me, a song on Side One of the then just released, second Heartbreakers record, "You're Gonna Get It." Frank had a great stereo and everything sounded amazing. Those opening chords shot me into the stratosphere and to this day, "Hurt" remains my favorite Tom Petty tune. It may not be his best, but it was my first.
Someone mentioned on Monday how one of the saddest things about Petty's death was never knowing how much more music he had left to give. I don't know. Maybe that's true. One thing though, he sure did go out on top. If you are suddenly feeling like hearing new Tom Petty music, listen to those records you think you know. I bet you'll find a dozen new favorites.