Tag Archives: Music

Petty, Theft and Full Moon Fever

Tom Petty died October 2, 2017, at the age of 66. With his band The Heartbreakers, Petty had just completed his final national tour marking the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut. He left behind an incredible musical legacy and a legion of fans among whom I am proud to count myself a member.

I want to tell you what Tom Petty and his music meant to me. I want to do so without suggesting what his work should mean to you–I want to spare you the generic platitudes that so often follow the death of an icon.

Photo appears courtesy of Kevin Mocker, Mocker’s Photos

My parents never really played the “100 songs for kids” or owned a Rafi album. My siblings and I learned about rock and roll, folk, and soul from the backseat of our parents’ car. My dad brought his love of Bob Seger, Jim Croce, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Creedence Clearwater Revival on every road trip. My mom peppered every ride to the grocery store and drive to school with Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, The Eagles, and heavy doses of Motown.

I first discovered Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers–as many did–through the multi-platinum selling 1989 album Full Moon Fever. My path to fandom was slightly different than most. I was 18 and working part-time. Since I had no expenses, I spent all of my meager income on CDs. I had amassed quite a collection, mostly comprised of artists my parents had introduced on those car rides. I had a CD slipcase housed in a wooden box that held all 60 of my musical treasures.

One night while working late, some nefarious soul broke into my 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis and absconded with $10 in loose change from my cupholder and my entire CD collection. I was, to say the very least, devastated. I remember that drive home from work as one of the most depressing experiences of my young life. The radio in my $600 car only picked up the local country station, so I drove home in silence quietly lamenting the loss of my traveling companions.

The next morning as I got back in the car for my 30 min commute to college, I wondered if maybe the radio might be good to me and at least tune in the local classic rock station. It didn’t.

There are moments in your life when you can look back and divide time between a certain second and everything that came after it. Just as I was about to give up and set the dial to the pop-country sounds available on my radio I dropped my hand to my side and felt something in-between the seats. My skin knew the hard textured plastic to be a CD jewel case.

I had completely forgotten that a few days before I had purchased Full Moon Fever. I bought it because I had heard “Free Fallin” on the radio and felt that the sound fit my tastes. “This band was bound to have a couple more songs that I would enjoy,” I had thought. Why I hadn’t played the CD before that moment is lost to me now. I slid it into the CD player and listened with thankful ears to what would become my favorite album, mostly because it was my only album.

After a month or so of exhausting that record and learning the lyrics to every track, I needed more. At the local record store, I studied the available selections. After much deliberation, I bought a copy of Echo. At the time it was the most recent release. It didn’t sound the same. The music was more subdued, the singer sad, the lyrics were more expressive. I didn’t like it. On repeat listens (remember I only owned two CDs), I came to appreciate the darkness of Echo in contrast to the light of Full Moon Fever.

Not long after purchasing my second Tom Petty record and boring my two best friends to tears analyzing the lyrics, pointing out the musical subtleties and repeatedly calling Tom Petty a genius, I discovered his tour was coming to Columbus, Ohio. I purchased tickets with money I didn’t have and convinced my friends to do the same.

We arrived at the venue early and quickly found our seats. Chatting with several of the people seated around us I quickly discovered that this being my first show placed me in the minority. Most of the other attendees had seen Tom Petty multiple times, a few of them had seen a few shows on this tour following the band from town to town.

The Heartbreakers were amazing to watch. Tom was in complete control of the crowd. The set included most of the hits and went on for nearly 3hrs. I rode the high of that experience all the way home. I quickly began devouring any Tom Petty record that I could find, and within a month I had them all. Those ten records sat perfectly on the shelf above my computer. A complete set. I wrung each album dry for the next year. Listening to those records, I felt I had reached the end of the line. Then I discovered the Playback box set, and the magic began all over again. Every time I felt like I had exhausted the catalog, I would read about another release Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had played on. I would track them down and begin all over again.

Through Tom Petty’s musical style, I discovered many incredible artists. His music had elements of The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Tom Petty also played on many tribute albums and in collaboration with artists like Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison. Through his liner notes, I learned about many artists who played on Tom Petty’s records: Donald Duck Dunn, Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, Steve Jordan, Jim Keltner, Richard Manuel. Learning about the artists who worked with Tom Petty taught me about Stax Records, The Band, The Beatles, and many others. I studied each of those artists with the same ferocity with which I had attacked Tom Petty’s catalog.

No matter what I was listening to at the time, I always cycled back to Tom Petty. Every year or so I would plow through my collection again and get something new out of most of the songs. There was always a depression that followed placing that last album back on the shelf. Every time my collection started to feel incomplete, like clockwork, there was a new album a new concert DVD or documentary film. Every two years there was a new tour. Tom Petty became a constant in my world.

Photo appears courtesy of Kevin Mocker, Mocker’s Photos

Lyrically, I found a Tom Petty song for every occasion. Each time I experienced highs and lows in my life, it felt as though Tom had already been there. He became like an older brother going before me into the world and sending back his findings. Tom Petty’s music helped me through a divorce, career changes, the loss of my father, and even the loss of a child. Tom Petty may not have experienced those specific things, but his music told of grief, disappointment, lowered expectations, and loss.

The characters in his songs seemed like real people. The narrative that began with each opening line told of a lifetime. I got to know them all. They weren’t all likable, but they were all relatable. Tom Petty handled each one–hero and villain–with the care and concern that each of us would ask for if it were our story being told.

Being a Tom Petty fan made me a better fan of music in general. His work set a standard of songwriting that each artist must meet to find themselves a place on those shelves that hold my collection. He was a master storyteller with reverence and deep respect for those who came before him. Tom Petty gave me a master’s course in what it means to meet people where they are and see where they are coming from.

Tom Petty’s work was the first music that was truly mine. I discovered it independent of my parent’s tastes, and just as they did with their favorites, I share it now with my own children. They will follow that path to find their own things and pass them on to their children; the big old world keeps spinning round.

The point of this piece is to honestly say thank you to a friend and a mentor: thank you for being a piece of the unfolding journey that is my life. I also want to say thank you to the thief who stole my CDs.  Without you, I might never have dug in and discovered all that Tom Petty had to offer to the soundtrack of my experiences. “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” (I said I wouldn’t quote lyrics… I lied.)

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On Learning New Things

A week ago, I started learning how to play guitar. I have no frame of reference about how to play, so I’m starting with zero knowledge of the instrument. When the guy at the music store asked me what kind of guitar I wanted, I replied, “Red?”

I didn’t make a purchase that day, but I did borrow my father-in-law’s Parker electric guitar. Thankfully, it’s red.

I did, however, purchase a little program for my Xbox called “Rocksmith.” The box promises that it’s “the fastest way to learn guitar!” That quote from a national study by Research Strategy Group Inc. I have no idea what that group is, but that quote, along with all the reviews of the program I’d read, convinced me to give it a try (and the $20 discount with Amazon Prime didn’t hurt either). I don’t want to focus this column on Rocksmith, but it’s a good program that seems to be working for me. I’m better at learning things when I can turn learning into a game.

I wanted to start learning guitar because I was feeling stagnant. I’ve been at my job for nearly seven years. I’m a work-at-home dad, but as my kids progress at school, they will be home less and less. I needed to learn something that would keep me busy, keep me striving to get better, and keep the loneliness away when I was by myself.
I also missed performing music. Guitar seemed like the perfect solution.

And while I’ll never look as cool as this guy:

I could at least look as cool as this guy:

I promise I’m not mocking this man. He looks dope.


I have nothing to prove I’m striving to just keep practicing, learning, and attempting to be a tiny bit better than I was the day before. I’m not pressuring myself too much. I have no performances to train for. I’m not starting a band. I’m just doing it because I love to make music.


A lot of times, I have been so afraid of failing that I wouldn’t try new things. Sticking to stuff you already know is safe. You don’t have to get too far out of your comfort zone when you stick to the same activities. This is almost a completely new universe for me, and the freedom to fail is, well, freeing. I want this to be a big first step in becoming a more well-rounded individual.

If I may, let me encourage you to try something new, especially if it’s something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Learning those subjects that you actually want to learn changes the dynamic of gathering knowledge so drastically. Enjoy yourself.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here badly plucking away at “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”

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The Cool Ship Has a Music Lounge?!

I haven’t written about anything music related in a while, and I’ve been in a musical mood lately (not “musical” as in musicals but “musical” as in music, if that makes sense), so I thought I’d write something music oriented.

First off, I wanna talk about Queens of the Stone Age. Seriously, one of my favorite bands of all time. They are the quintessential rock band, no doubt about it. Each member oozes rock ‘n roll swagger and musical excellence with every note they play or lyric they sing. And their appearance on Austin City Limits is a prime example of that. If you haven’t seen in yet, you’re missing out. Take a gander and find out why they’re so amazing.

Are you hooked?

Yeah, you’re hooked. (If not, get out)

And if you’re digging them, check out Josh Homme’s (the frontman) other projects: Kyuss, The Desert Sessions, Eagles of Death Metal, and Them Crooked Vultures. Oh, and there’s this:

Next, I was trying to think of a top five list of mainstream bands that would make incredibly kick-ass wedding bands, but the my thought process in stuck on one band, Powerman 5000. How freaking sweet would that be?! You sit through the wedding, head to the reception, if you’re lucky there’s an open bar, the music kicks in, and BAM…PM5K starts rockin’ the stage! It would be the only time I would enjoy listening to the Chicken Dance.

Or at least, their cover of Devo’s “Whip It”

Finally, any music project Phil Anselmo is a part of is beyond badass and will definitely have my approval. His newest project is no exception. Philip Anselmo & the Illegals’ Walk Through Exits Only is a heavy metal masterpiece. Raw, brutal, and unabashedly blunt, it’s one of the best metal albums of 2013. I hope he plans to continue with this solo project because I foresee even greater things coming from it in the future. It feels like an invigoratingly new Anselmo. Not that his recent work with Down is lacking anything, it’s just a different vibe, a different energy.

I miss Pantera as much as the next metal head, but Dimebag is gone and it doesn’t look like Phil and Vinnie are ever gonna reconcile, so any new music that Phil makes is gonna have to fill that void. And he’s doing a damn fine job of it, a much better job than Vinnie Paul’s band, Hellyeah.

What music is tickling your fancy lately? Leave your comments in the comment section.

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Close up Pandora’s Box

pandora1  The Music Genome Project was supposed to change the way we listen to music online, or at least how music is organized. According to the founders, “the project was an effort to capture the essence of music at the fundamental level using almost 400 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them.” Under the direction of Nolan Gasser, the musical structure and implementation of the Music Genome Project, made up of 5 Genomes (Pop/Rock, Hip-Hop/Electronica, Jazz, World Music, and Classical), was advanced and codified.

The Music Genome Project is the backbone of the popular online radio service known as Pandora. Pandora utilizes the genome as a jumping off point toward something called a “distance function.” In essence, when you input a band, song or basic genre, a station is built using the above attributes. The distance function includes songs and groups that may not include all of the attributes of your original entry. Basically it moves you from your comfort zone toward new music you may enjoy.

When I first stumbled onto Pandora in 2004, it was a breath of fresh air. I enjoy a wide variety of artists and genres, so having access to such a vast quantity of songs was fantastic. I enjoyed being challenged by some of the selections on my stations. I spent a fair amount of time adding artists and songs to my established stations and using the “thumbs” to indicate my likes and dislikes. Pandora was a big part of my Internet time. This has continued as Pandora has grown and has been included on most devices. I now play my custom stations in my car, on my TV, and on my and phone.

My very first Pandora station is still active. It has over 900 adjustments and includes almost everything I can think to add. Over the past 9 years my tastes have changed slightly, they have grown in ways that I must attribute in part to Pandora. However I am considering shutting the whole thing down over the following 3 points:

How many times must I tell Pandora I don’t like Bryan Adams?:

You tell Pandora what you like or don’t like by hitting the thumbs up or thumbs down icon attached to each song. These ratingsbryan-adams sort of work…in a way…sometimes. If you “thumbs down” an artist (Say Bryan Adams) and that artist was ever part of another band or appeared on a film soundtrack etc. then you will have to “thumbs down” each individual entry (All For One, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves sound track etc.) Also as you create additional stations you must go through this process each time. The ratings do not carry over to other stations.

There is no way to eliminate an entire genre or era:

I am a lover of classic rock, though I feel the word classic is kicked around with little criteria to define it. Say you want to eliminate the 80s or 90s from a straight forward rock station. You can’t. Let alone get specific enough to remove, say, ’80s ballad heavy roots rock from Canadians. Canadians named Bryan, for instance.

How many times must I hear the same commercials?:

In the beginning, Pandora was ad free. When they began adding commercials the frequency of ad play was as predictable as traditional radio. Now I cannot determine the sequence. At times I can hear 10 songs with zero ads, others I get an ad every 3rd song. This would not be a big deal except they only appear to have 5 ads. These are played completely at random, so you wind up hearing the same ad three times in the same 30-minute period. Imagine if that ad were for a Bryan Adams’ greatest hits package or tour; it would be unbearable.

So I find my time on Pandora more and more limited in an effort to avoid frustration. These few complaints are causing the music to have the opposite of its desired effect. Also Bryan Adams sucks!



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After Christmas Slump

Is it just me or does everyone get cranky after Christmas?

After the presents are opened and after familiarity has bred a fair amount of contempt, all I want to do is get away. It’s not fair, and it’s not always possible, but that’s the truth.

Is that just me? Gosh, I hope not.

It’s not that I don’t love my family; I surely do. It’s not that I don’t want to see them; I surely do.

I already miss Christmas. I already miss the music. I guess the “holiday season” isn’t quite over, yet. But, it all seems done after Christmas, doesn’t it? I’m listening to Lindsey Stirling right now just to be obstinate. Listen:

Her videos are a little bit goofy, but I like her music. Most times, I just like to keep her in another window.

Music makes me happy, and it helps my post Christmas slump. Even if it’s Christmas music. It doesn’t have to be, though. This always boosts my mood:

Do you have an after Christmas down? What do you do to pull yourself through?


[Featured image: By Grzegorz Łobiński (originally posted to Flickr as Santa Claus) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

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Awful Christmas Songs

There are some really awesome Christmas songs.

And then there are the kind that are really, really awful. And since I like focusing on things that suck, here are my least favorite Christmas songs.

1. The Christmas Shoes – New Song

Patton Oswalt has said (NSFW Language) pretty much everything I want to say about The Christmas Shoes. This song is sadistic.

2. Santa Gimme – JRandall

Shirtless dude? Check. Skeezy dude singing skeezy lyrics? Check. This Christmas song makes me infinitely sad.

3. Santa Claus is Comin’ in a Boogie Woogie Choo-Choo Train – The Tractors

The Tractors aren’t the most popular country rock band on Earth, so when it came time to make a Christmas album, what did they do? Took their most popular song and changed the lyrics to be more Christmas-y. This song makes me want to lay my head under the big wheel of a tractor and beg for it to run over my skull and crush my brains out.



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Covering the Angles: YouTube Artists

(Bonus points for anyone who recognized Mitch Miller of “Sing Along with Mitch” fame on the cover photo!)

Cracking into the music business has changed drastically over the past decade. In years past, one had to be signed with some big record company to gain a certain amount of success.

Peter Hollens. He’s just a dude with a great voice. Image courtesy of Google play.

These days? Not necessarily. Take a stroll over to YouTube to see the good, the bad, and the terribly disfigured all desperately trying to catch the eye of someone who will let them make a lot of money. Many are already making money by making their songs and/or albums available for download, circumventing the system altogether. I love these guys! (The good ones, of course.)

And because I have a certain amount of geekery abiding in my soul, I tend to gravitate toward covers of themes from video games, movies and television shows.

And no, I’m not talking about that cat that meowed through the Game of Thrones intro. (Okay, so I chuckled. I’m not made of stone!)

Check out this awesome cover of the theme to Skyrim:

I’m not going to lie; I’m a bit addicted to Peter Hollens, now. I’ve always been a sucker for a capella music, and this guy’s got it going on for real. I’ve already spent way too much time on his YouTube channel listening to his other covers. I approve.

Hollens inevitably leads to another favorite of mine: Lindsey Stirling. (Here’s her contribution to Hollens’ Skyrim, which he actually recorded at her request in the first place. So, I guess it’s his contribution to her’s? Eh. Note the sweet silliness of costuming! Seriously, I love it.)

Stirling has a ton of great covers and some original stuff, as well. Here’s her “Lord of the Rings Medley.”

And, my husband would make a sad beard face if I didn’t include her terrific “Zelda Medley.”

I could literally spend all day on these two guys’ channels. Okay, maybe a couple of hours. I could literally spend a couple of hours on these two guys’ channels.

Here’s another fun one by YouTuber SUPRICKY06 (Seriously, that’s what you’re going by, dude? Um, okay.)

Name that tune(s)! A former Friday night favorite of mine for sure. Or, favorites, I should say. And more a capella!

*Happy sigh.

Who are your favorite YouTube cover artists? Share in the comments!

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