Why is it you feel so much sorrow for someone you never met?

With the news of Tom Petty’s rather untimely passing last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how I felt when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died.

Steve’s death wasn’t as much a shock as it was deflating. His health had been declining for many years, and even people outside the technology world knew this. I finally came to an understanding that my sadness was because I revered many of the things Jobs stood for, such as his passion for his products. He gave incredible speeches. His keynote presentations were pure theater, setting a gold standard for generations. His genius changed the way I use my phone and computer forever. I felt connected.

When word about Petty broke, I once again had to wrestle with why I was feeling so sad. We weren’t friends. I’d never even met him. The best I could muster was being in the stands of Boston’s TD Garden in late July with my wife for The Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour.

The Heartbreakers were as sharp as they’ve always been on that July night, in my opinion anyway, and Tom carried the show like the seasoned veteran that he was. It was more than a concert; it was like friends getting together and listening to each other jam. As was always the case with them, I felt connected.

Hearing that Petty had died was just a shock to the system. To figure out why, I summoned a former boss of mine, who I’ve always considered a close friend and who might know more about TPATH than even the Heartbreakers themselves, for some clarity.

Bruce has always had a way of explaining things to me that opens my mind up to better understanding. Everyone needs a Bruce in their life. As a longtime music fanatic who has turned me onto some amazing artists I hadn’t heard of before, he put it quite clearly:

“The music we listen to is part of who we are. It’s part of our generational identity and is crucial in how we think about ourselves. By extension, therefore, the musicians who make that music are, if not part of us, then at least part of what makes us who we are.”

That is part of the connection we feel with the artists and with those around us within our generation. Hell, in some cases across many generations. They are one of the rarities who can say they impacted so many across the board.

Bruce went on to talk about how it’s human nature to have things like this cut deeply. When an artist you feel tied to in spirit dies, a piece of you, in essence, dies with them. It’s not dramatic. It’s the truth.

The conversation wasn’t all sadness. Bruce did say that as tough as this loss is for the many fans that Petty profoundly touched, he added that Tom left us with a vast catalog of incredible work as his parting gift. And for that I am thankful.

“One more thing.”

Here are a few of my favorites I listen to when I need the escape of a YouTube rabbit hole:

Melinda (Live Anthology)
Spike (Live in 2012)
Spike (Live in the mid-1980s)
You Wreck Me (Live in 2017)

How did Tom Petty influence your music tastes? Comment below or send an e-mail!