Like so many, I was fully expecting that Tom Petty would have more in store for us all, and my heart hurts for the family and friends he left behind on October 2, 2017. In the wake of his untimely death, I would like to make a small offering: a gathering of some of my favorite Tom Petty quotes from interviews and the music itself. May the memory of this legendary (but more importantly: beloved) singer, songwriter, producer, idol, father, husband, and friend live on forever in our hearts.
“It took us two years to make, but it sounds like it was made on a weekend — the right weekend.” — Rick Rubin, producer, referencing the 1994 album Wildflowers
Tom Petty wasn’t easy to categorize, which is one of the reasons, I think, that I continue to love this artist and this band so much. A prolific rock n’ roller best known as the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Tom carried with him a palpable love for what he did, and that genuine passion carried him all the way to the end.
“The end” is too harsh a word, though; his music will live on forever in the hearts of those who grew up listening and for those who have yet to be touched by his songs. What can we really say about the ending of one’s life on earth, except that we are left to pick up the pieces of our own broken hearts?
I guess we just never know when it’s our time to move on. It always would have been too soon for Tom Petty, but I guess that’s also the way it goes sometimes… Needless to say, I’m not prepared to write this small tribute to him, even as I write it…Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks. @tompetty Click To Tweet
If anything, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were due for a respite, some space to breathe and time to enjoy family. The band had just finished up their 40th anniversary tour at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on September 25th. Though they weren’t planning on doing something as physically tolling as a long tour, they certainly retained the same vibrancy for their work that got them started, and they weren’t “retiring” anytime soon.
In his final interview with Randy Lewis, Tom proudly and affectionately declared that the band is better than it’s ever been; “It keeps me young,” he said.
He didn’t ever want to do anything halfhearted, and he never did. When it comes to music, Tom’s opinion was that there was just no faking that. “You can’t pretend and get away with it,” he said. He was his music, and he shined in everything he created.
The way he showed up for every song is a testament to the quality of music that he and his band sustained throughout the years. He loved to listen, and his fans loved to listen to him.
You don’t see that so much—bands playing together for 40 years, still laughing and having fun, and still improving. The style may have varied with the shifting winds of wherever they were at in their lives, but the sound was consistently their own. There definitely is no pretending there, but a strong enthusiasm that’s weathered four decades. “The world is changing fast,” they sang, “but our love was built to last.”Can there ever truly be an end to a soul who has left behind so much joy for the rest of us? Click To Tweet
A lot of Tom’s journey has been about dreams coming true. While the goals might have changed along the way, the magic was always still there. His was a journey of passion, an endless amusement, with the intent to enjoy life while he was living it. There was a lot to respect about this man.
I think a lot of people can agree that Tom Petty—who he was as a person and a musician—signified the pursuit of freedom and passion in life, and standing up for what’s right along the way.
Through Tom Petty’s music, I found a deeper place to go. Music was his way out of the drudgery of the regular world, and this craving for a sense of freedom from it all was reflected in every note. His music became a way out for countless others who, like him, sought an escape from the customs they knew.
When he saw the Beatles play at a young age, his response was spot on: “There’s the way out.” That’s the feeling I get in my heart whenever I listen to him.
Some of the Tom Petty quotes I’ve collected here are derived from interviews (this article shares some handpicked quotes from over the years, and Randy Lewis shares some notable nuggets of wisdom from his final interview with Tom, for which I’m grateful) along with some of my most cherished verses from the songs themselves. I’ve linked the lyrical quotes to the songs so you can listen, if you’d like.
It’s not easy to live in this world, but Tom was an example of how doing what you love from a pure place is possible. He will, I am absolutely sure, remain an inspiration for as long as music is being played.
40 Timeless Tom Petty Quotes, in Honor of Everything He Gave the World
1. “I still really love playing with this band. It’s just such a ridiculously good band; I think that’s what keeps me involved in going out on the road. it keeps me wanting to go out and play. I just really love playing with these guys. I think we all treasure the Heartbreakers; When we actually get together and it’s the Heartbreakers there’s a sense of pride in it. And we know we’re good [laughs], so that’s something to live up to, isn’t it? Every time we go out there we want to be really great.” — Tom Petty (2005)
2. “I don’t think I’ve walked away ever thinking ‘Ah, that’s perfect.’ I do the best I can. That’s what keeps me coming back.” — Tom Petty (2017)
3. “You know, music isn’t really supposed to be perfect. It’s all about people relating to each other and doing something that’s really from the soul.” — Tom Petty
4. “It wasn’t work for me, because I would’ve done it anyway… I just had a built-in love of what I was doing. I created my own vision of what I wanted to do. I was on a mission.” — Tom Petty (2017)If you spend a lot of time thinking about your career, you don't have one. @tompetty (1991) Click To Tweet
6. “And if you follow your feelings, and you follow your dreams, you might find the forest there in the trees.” — Tom Petty, Wake Up Time
7. “Back then it was almost like admitting that you were never going to make any money and realizing you probably were not going to have a professional life but saying, ‘This is what I love, so I’ll do this.'” — Tom Petty (1991)
8. “Music is… the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.” — Tom Petty
9. “You take it on faith. You take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.” — Tom Petty, The Waiting
10. “We’ve gotten used to not playing the same show night after night. I hope some of that feeling comes along with it, some of that freedom to explore. I’ve seen people that have been around a long time and they just fall into routine and self-parody. That’s just not where we want to wind up. We really believe in this music, this rock ‘n’ roll music that we’re playing. And we want to keep it fresh and avoid any sort of routine to it.” — Tom Petty (1999)We've all got to kind of come together if we want things to be better. @tompetty (2002) Click To Tweet
18. “The Hard Promises Tour was a very hard tour, a hard one for me mentally. All of a sudden we were in a different place. I think I started to take it too seriously. I really wanted to part the Red Sea every night. I felt I had to…. It took me awhile to reckon all that out, get comfortable with it it. Now I cherish it.” — Tom Petty (1982)
19. “It’s a really great surprise to find out you can get better as you get older. I’m enjoying performing because the band just gets better and better; instead of going the other direction, we’re actually getting better at what we’re doing, and that obviously makes it a little easier to do. It seems like over the years, ever time we get together and plug in and start to play we’ve come a little further than we were. If you kind of take care of yourself and care a lot about what you’re doing, there’s no end to it I don’ think. I think you can keep improving, and I think if we don’t we’ll stop.” — Tom Petty (2005)
20. “It’s sort of hope amongst the ruins, I think. To me we’re all in the great wide open. I think life is pretty wild; I really want to like the world, but at the same time I have to write about what I see.” — Tom Petty (1991)Sometimes you're happy. Sometimes you cry. Half of me is ocean. Half of me is sky. @tompetty Click To Tweet
22. “Do something you really like, and hopefully it pays the rent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s success.” — Tom Petty
23. “You belong among the wildflowers. You belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free.” — Tom Petty, Wildflowers
24. “Go after what you really love and find a way to make that work for you, and then you’ll be a happy person.” — Tom Petty
25. “Well some say life will beat you down. Break your heart, steal your crown. So I’ve started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.” — Tom Petty, Learning to FlyTake me as I come 'cause I can't stay long. @tompetty Click To Tweet
27. “I would assure all his fans that George was just as beautiful as they pictured him. And maybe more.” — Tom Petty, referencing his friend and Beatles members, George Harrison
28. “I learned so much from Bob Dylan. “He gave us a kind of courage that we never had, to learn something quickly and go out on stage and play it… You really learnt the value of spontaneity, of how a moment that is real in a concert is worth so much more than one you plan out.” — Tom Petty (2012)
29. “If you’re phony, they will feel it in the farthest row of the arena. You have to really care. And you have to make yourself care time and time again.” — Tom Petty
30. “… The only people who ever really make the big score are the ones who run off the course.”— Tom Petty (1980)You need eagles wings to get over things that make no sense in this world. @tompetty Click To Tweet
32. “I always had a little routine of going into whatever room I was using at the time to write in, and just staying in there till I felt like I got a bite.” — Tom Petty (2017)
33. “I’m more interested in what I’m going to leave behind me than in making a big hit record. I’ve refined what I do for a long time. If getting better at it means it goes over the heads of those who only wanted to party, then so be it.” — Tom Petty
34. “The only good thing about getting older is you get smart enough to avoid unnecessary problems. You know what’s worth spending time on and what’s not. If I had known that at 20, life would have been so much easier, but you have to experience all these things so you figure out how to find your way through the woods.” — Tom Petty
35. “Well I know what’s right. I got just one life in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around. But I’ll stand my ground.” — Tom Petty, I Won’t Back Down
36. “… If there’s one thing I know about music theory, it’s that if you don’t believe the singer, you won’t believe the song.” — Tom Petty (1980)“Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” @tompetty Click To Tweet
38. “But listen honey, wherever you are tonight. I wish you the best of everything in the world. And I hope you found, whatever you were looking for.” — Tom Petty, Best of Everything
39. “If you can’t take the attitude that even losers get lucky, I don’t see how you can face life.” — Tom Petty (1980)
40. “I’m just trying to make good quality music, ’cause I do realize this music is going to be around much longer than me. I do know that now. If I’m gonna get it together to go make a record, I want it to be something that does feel timeless and honest.” — Tom Petty (2005)
You may also enjoy this post including some of my favorite Tom Petty lyrics and why I love them.
If you feel so inclined, please share your undying love for Tom Petty, which songs have a special place in your heart, your favorite albums, and any stories about how Tom’s music affected your life—with me in the comments.
Share this post with a fellow fan of this great man.
Let your heart be your guide… because we’re all working on a mystery.