It’s time to move on, time to get goin’
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowin’
But under my feet, baby, grass is growin’
It’s time to move on, time to get goin’.
– Tom Petty
“I’ve read that Echo is my ‘divorce album,’” Tom Petty told his biographer, Warren Zanes. “But Wildflowers is the divorce album. That’s me getting ready to leave. I don’t even know how conscious I was of it when I was writing it. I don’t go into this stuff with elaborate plans. But I’m positive that’s what Wildflowers is.”
I hasten to say that the pandemic and lockdown have been good for my own marriage, with due allowance for the constant stress and uncertainty we’re all living with, and for the frayed nerves that occasionally erupt in close quarters. For me, and I hope for Jenny as well, our love and companionship have been balms through this time.
But Petty’s solo album of 1994 speaks much more generally, and with evergreen loveliness as well as relevance, to endings and beginnings. Which might explain why I’ve been listening to it daily the past two months.
There have been other periods in my life when I’ve listened to it often, as well as long stretches when it’s stayed on the shelf, so to speak. But it has always been there in case I needed it. And right now, I need it.
Petty provided much of the soundtrack to my life, as many other fans have put it both before and since he died. He often said that he appreciated when people said that, I think because it told him he was doing something right. I also appreciated him because he showed what can be accomplished by someone of humble origins, with persistence and stamina and a determination to hold himself and others to high standards over the long haul. Sure, he had a few clunkers along the way. But don’t we all? He died on my birthday in 2017, and that was just a shitty day for me from start to finish.
I’m listening to Wildflowers yet again as I write this. It never gets old. Its lyrics are replete with expressions of a felt need to start afresh:
So let’s get to the point
Let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go …
And of what it feels like to lose someone or something, or everything:
But I’m not afraid anymore
It’s only a broken heart.
And of change, close kin to loss:
And the days went by
like paper in the wind.
then changed again.
And of defiant hippyish optimism:
We gotta get to a higher place
and I hope we all arrive together.
And of resignation tantamount to liberation:
I’m so tired of bein’ tired
but sure as night will follow day
most things I worry about
never happen anyway.
And of rue:
You were so cool
back in high school.
And of gentle gratitude:
If he gets lucky
a boy finds a girl
to help him to shoulder
the pain in this world.
The closing piano ballad on Wildflowers ends with a reiteration of the song’s title lyric, accompanied by French horn:
It’s wake-up time
time to open up your eyes