Thank you, Tom Petty

We someone famous dies, we talk about them. Everybody talks about them. If they are like Tom Petty, mostly we just extend our gratitude that we happened to hit this mortal loop at the same time. Tom Petty had a long career and an impressive body of work – listen to the whole catalog – the texture of his work is neither glam-rock smooth like Bowie nor quite as unwashed as Mellencamp.  There’s a earthy, sexy grit to it, a forward groove, and a feeling that everything will be all right.

There are gems like “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, arguably the best driving song since Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” stands out with its creepy Alice in Wonderland video. His biggest hit, “Free Fallin'” started out as a way to make fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne laugh.

But when we praise the work of an artist, it is usually in terms of how their gifts affected us personally. What does the song mean to you? Which one got under your skin and cracked your heart wide open, leaving your brain in the dust?

“American Girl” was released in 1977.  The urban myth states that the song is about a college girl from Petty’s home of Gainesville, Florida who took LSD and jumped thinking she could fly.  I never read that part of the story til a few days ago. I’d heard the song hundreds of times, sang along, knew the words.

In the summer of 1989, on my first night in Paris, I was standing alone on a balcony at 3am. It was quiet, rainy and cool.

slide-1.jpg
My balcony at Hotel de la Cite Rougement in Paris.

 

Earlier that night, I had struck up a conversation in a cafe with a boy named Karim. He was swarthy and beautiful and looked vaguely like Jeff Healy’s drummer. We were both 20 and far from home – although he would not talk about his home. He asked if I would like to go to the Eiffel Tower.  Well, of course!  He had a car and we could be there toute de suite!

He was a very fast, very terrible driver. Worse than me when I started driver’s ed and nearly took out some trees. It was after midnight though and the streets were clear. He bolted down close alleys and jerked the gearshift. The little orange Citroen hopped and screeched. And then suddenly, there we were. We parked on the Seine side and got out. 1989 was the 100th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower (from the 1889 World’s Fair).  “100 ANS” was spelled out in lighted letters down one side. I had showed up in Paris at an auspicious time.

TE100ans

The air was heavy and sweet. And Karim kissed me and the clouds opened.  The rain drenched and pounded us, but we did not move from our place. We kissed and kissed because the moon was full and the tower was lit and the rain gods couldn’t stop us.

We both started to shiver. He drove me back to the cafe like a maniac.  Except now, he was a chilly, excited maniac. We agreed to meet for lunch in the same place. He kissed me goodnight and I didn’t want to let go, but I did.

I walked home slowly, cool insistent droplets pattering my head and hands.  Back to my hotel. Back to standing alone on the balcony.  Back to when I did everything I could just to be here.  I couldn’t help thinkin’ that there was a little more to life somewhere else. After all it was a great big world.

I stood there, stopped shivering, tasted the warmth of his kiss lemonade beer and Gauloises cigarettes.

I knew I would never see him again. Not my choice. My group was leaving for Alsace in five hours. I breathed in the night deep as I could.  God it’s so painful/something that’s so close/still so far out of reach. I wanted to make it last. Make it last all night.

I don’t play the what-if game. Life happens the way it is supposed to.  I am exactly where I need to be. Wherever Karim landed, I hope he is happy.  Whenever “American Girl” comes on, I sing along. It’s not about me, but it is. I appreciate what it means to me.

It got under my skin, cracked open my heart, left my brain in the dust for 3 minutes and 33 seconds.

Thank you, Tom Petty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry: In the Midnight Garden – The Power of Dreams

One August night three years ago, I woke up blind sobbing.  I could not snap myself awake because this dream held on to me.
I dreamed of the man I love being called by Death.
Death is not a stranger to me.  My grandparents, parents – all no longer in this life. It is an honor to be truly present when someone passes.  I was there for my maternal grandparents and my mother. I held my grandfather’s small, blue hand and felt all of his memories pass through him; his life in rural Kentucky as a child, his mother’s face, his dogs, his children when they were small, his continued strength and determination and I knew firsthand the blessing it left on me.
mort
T-shirt design by Daz L’asrtist
Aside from my wonderful son, I have no immediate family. I have built one with friends and specifically with this man. This man who is fearless and kind and creative and magic and steady and real.
So when she came to collect, in this dream, in her guise – I made a deal.
Please enjoy the poem below:
In The Midnight Garden
She stole in through indigo bough under the weight and glory of
a full, gold moon
A ghost of a girl moving like breeze through gaudy forsythia
Her limbs birch white and eye pale grey blue like the pulsing
vein of a wild dove
Her ebon hair whipping savage and smile curving down
She sang her rain crow song, weaving through phantom
wisteria
She called to me with a lover’s voice by my secret name and
brought me out under the darkling stars
“I know you by your eye and your song.” She croaked softly
and offered me her cold hand as if gifting me a lily.
Her cool breath stole across my shoulders and slowed my blood. The
Death crow had coming to steal away my love.
Steal him from his life and waken in him another. A birth into
fretless abyss and humming oblivion.
To waken in me endless
empty hours and stillness without peace,
To tear him from his life and so from mine.
“How will you keep him with flesh that alters and weakens?
How will he love the finite and imperfect? When art and beauty
are timeless?
How can he stay with you? When I am Evolution and Omega.”
“I know you by your cold and illusion.” I sang softly and placed
my warming hand on her icy brow as if feeling a child’s face
for fever.
She wavered a bit but stood frozen, defiant. The Death crow demanded her treasure.
“I know you will take him. Into the desert darkness
where life is only a covetous idea.
I know he will love the journey and waken from the dream of
this life.And you may have him when my heart stops and me
too for the bargain.
But first listen…”
She smiled a curving downward crescent and let her head fall to
one side.
Her raven mane falling over the shifting planes of her
silver face altering into pain.
She heard
Loud and hard and hot and fierce the insistent beating of my heart.
The Death crow’s eyes grew wide as the moon. “I’ll be back.”
I smiled. “Take your time. We will be a while yet.”