He wasn’t running on fumes.
Most aged, classic bands have been beaten down, believing their audience still cared they released new music to little acclaim and then gave up, gussied up their look and went on endless victory parades where they played their hits to an aged audience and it isn’t adulation so much as money, they need it, to pay their bills, there was never that much money in the beginning, when royalty rates were low and tickets were four, five and six dollars, and then they got divorced, after spending everything, believing it was gonna come in forever, and now you can see them, but it’s not them, not the hungry people who needed it way back when, who created the soundtrack to our lives.
You can’t make that much money in music. So now people dream of being techies, and bankers, and we need both, but their efforts are transitory at best. Whereas when we hear Tom Petty’s songs on the radio they still have impact, meaning, he lives on, even though he’s dead.
And that’s hard to compute, that someone’s gone. But the truth is we know our rock musicians, even if we don’t. We listened to the albums, we read about them, they’re far from faceless, and we never forget their work, it is never superseded. You might have a computer in the closet that runs MS-DOS, even OS9, but you never break it out, it’s ancient history, but you still play those old records, even if it’s mostly in your head, they’re ingrained in your brain.
But the difference with Petty is he never retired. Never gave up. Never stopped recording new music. Never stopped taking chances. Doing his radio show. While everybody else gave up and took the money, like Dylan, doing adverts, and Townshend, approving big league synchs, Petty sat on the sidelines, while Neil Young promoted the specious Pono, while everybody in Hollywood was making tech investments, Tom was just a musician, that was enough for him.
And it was enough for us.