Art, the artist and Tom Petty

Music provides such a joy. The icing on the cake of a beautiful world.

I have often said people love a particular song or an artist, not because of the song itself necessarily, but because of what it represents to them. For instance, my wife has a fond affection for Pat Benatar and I know this is because she used to listen to it when she was younger and associates it with happy times.

I have found myself shocked and surprised by the amount of rock n’ roll deaths we have witnessed recently. Tom Petty has left me feeling sadder than most. An iconic rock star, who for my father represented America, a frontier he only found in 1987 and spent his remaining twenty years conquering it annually. Tom Petty was the American heartland, the purity of the cowboy spirit.

I find myself thinking that he represents a similar thing to me. America, 1990 with the family, I remember Universal Studios, Californian beaches and the LA Raiders. I remember ‘Free Fallin’ and skateboarding, I remember a life away from suburban North-West Kent; Tom Petty represented the dream.

Despite the reminiscing and the associations, I also believe people like certain songs because of the quality of the songs, it is just association can play such an integral part. I remember first hearing ‘The 59 Sound’ by The Gaslight Anthem and being blown away by its power and beauty. I remember the pure, pop perfection of ‘Growing on Me’ by The Darkness and wondering, could a better 3 minutes of rock n’ roll be created? Sometimes the art transcends the artist that is for sure.

So, struggling to find a song or album to listen to, with a million choices at my fingertips (thanks to Amazon Prime!) I found myself struggling to know which road to go down. In these situations, I often revert to the past, to music that moved me when I was younger, that had a certain energy.

I found myself at the door of Lost Prophets, the song being ‘Last Train Home.’ If readers are unaware, the lead singer of the band, Ian Watkins, was convicted of 13 sex offences and sentenced to 29 years in jail. Some of the offences he is convicted of are against infants.

This level of darkness and evil leaves me feeling nauseous and angry. Acts that despite mental health issues are unforgivable. So where does that leave Ian Watkins’ art and his band? I would be lying if I said that Lost Prophets had a huge impact on my life, but they will have to millions of people. I am left pondering whether to press the play button on ‘Last Train Home’ a song with energy, a veritable teen anthem and that reminds me of my hedonistic first year at university.

I return then to the question, does art transcend the artist? Can we still enjoy the songs of our youth, despite the irrevocably despicable acts of the architect of the tunes? It is widely documented that many a troubled mind has produced wonderful art, but is there a line that we have to draw? Do we have to renounce the art because we renounce the artist?

The topic leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth, so I have pressed the play button on Tom Petty whose irrepressible American spirit lives on despite his sad and untimely demise. The wonder of creativity and art is that it throws up a number of deep, interesting questions.

One thing that is not up for debate is the quality of Petty and that he will be sorely missed.

Dedicated to Tom Petty (1950 – 2017)


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