Readers of this blog and many friends know I am a big fan of Tom Petty. To me, Tom Petty was more than a musician who had success and a lot of great songs. Tom was also a song writer who went beyond the angst and superficial emotions and imagery one would find in a typical rock song. And for a person who suffers from anxiety, Tom made me feel almost normal. He never said “anxiety” is normal, but he did convey time and again that everybody has problems and challenges; that everybody has moments of darkness; and that nobody has a perfect life.
For me, Tom’s songs could be emotional, they could stoke the imagination, or they could just tell a story. And I would like to tell my story of walking with Tom for over four decades now.
I was formally introduced to Tom Petty with Damn the Torpedoes. I played that album constantly, but I remember the first time I played it, the song that really stuck to me at the time was Louisiana Rain. I recognize Refugee is a song that anyone with anxiety can relate to and it is one of the reasons I wanted the album in the first place, but the haunting imagery created by Louisiana Rain is what stuck with me after the first listen.
South Carolina put out its arms for me
Right up until everything went black somewhere on Lonely Street
And I still can’t quite remember who helped me to my feet
Thank God for a love that followed the angel’s remedy
There are many ways to dissect this particular lyric. Tom obviously had something in mind when he put pen to paper, but he also wanted people to think for themselves. It was OK if you didn’t see what he saw, as long as you saw something.
What I saw was me – a person on the brink of suicide. I didn’t understand until decades later that it was anxiety that prevented me from going through it. It was anxiety that helped me to my feet. It was anxiety that was the angel’s remedy. And it was a few close friends who stood in for a love that followed and kept me sane through that particular moment in my life.
I feel it is important to note that I have not considered suicide since then.
Louisiana rain is falling just like tears
Running down my face, washing out the years
Louisiana rain is soaking through my shoes
I may never be the same when I reach Baton Rouge
Rain (or water) is often used as a metaphor for cleansing, but I took this to be more about change than anything else. Our lives are not a script and an event or moment can change the current path, just like rain changes the topography of a mountain, a desert and even a beach.
There were many songs on Damn the Torpedoes that spoke to me on a variety of levels. I didn’t know it then, but I would be walking with Tom for decades to come. Thank you for taking this journey with me.