A Happy Accident
It was an exciting time for music and to be alive.
In October of 1988, the Traveling Wilburys were born out of a chance meeting of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. For a brief period in time, the stars and planets in the heavens aligned to bring these five musicians to one location at a specific time frame to record some of the best music ever.
The first album came out to rave reviews and brought back the magic of an earlier era in rock and roll. It was like finding the lost chord and keeping it in your back pocket. But to me what informed this music and what came out in each song was the fact that all five musicians were friends and fans of one another, as Tom Petty later stated, “I love to hear these guys sing so much that for me I could have just sat there and listened.”
For Tom, the Wilburys was the band George always wanted. As it was not harrowed by the giant egos of John and Paul and the madness that defined the Beatles. Whether by intention or just a sign from above these five came together into a coherent whole. But the gods were watching and the sands of time in the hourglass were falling ever so determined. In all the excitement of the album and it’s positive reception, on December 6, Roy Orbison died in the midst of his comeback tour and his success in the Wilburys.
Full Moon Fever
Still, we were an enlightened bunch for our times.
In 1989, Tom Petty’s first solo album ‘Full Moon Fever’ was released in April of that year. It seemed as though that’s all you heard wherever you went, like it was coming out of thin air as the wind carried it forth. It was the kind of album that you’d worn out and are probably on your 3rd or 4th copy. It was the soundtrack to that specific summer in my life.
And what was it about Tom’s solo effort that seemed to speak directly to me, besides the fact that George and Jeff helped in the production and performed on a few tracks? It was good, it was simple, it was just rock and roll. The kind where the music stays in your head as you sing the lyrics in the car out loud, windows down as your foot is tapping in time on the accelerator.
As I sensed the beginning of the end of the music, the moon went into hiding behind darkened clouds.
On the 29th of November, 2001, George Harrison died, devastated, it sent to my soul a sense of lost which I still feel today. I read somewhere that Tom also took his death hard as he reminisced that the recording of the first Traveling Wilburys album was some of the best times of his life.
I would see Tom again in the Concert For George, organized by Eric Clapton and performed at the Albert Hall on the one year anniversary of George’s death. I also saw when Tom and Jeff Lynne induct George into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The music was still there, maybe lower in volume as I hung onto every word sung and every chord played. I took it for granted that Tom would always be there to safeguard the music, to make sure it was always accessible.
So in the events of Monday, October 2 that Tom Petty had indeed passed, I took it hard and needed space and as I wrote, my thought fixated on the summer of 89′, and I could feel the sun like a bridge across the years wrapping its arms around me.