I’ve had two songs on my mind since Monday afternoon.
One is “Southern Accents,” by Tom Petty.
It starts like this: “There’s a Southern accent, where I come from,/ The young’uns call it country,/ The Yankees call it dumb.”
Petty, raised in Gainesville, Fla., was found unconscious in his Malibu home Monday morning and was pronounced dead just before midnight.
The other song, also by Petty, is “It’s Good to Be King.”
“It’s good to be king,” it goes, “if just for a while,/ To be there in velvet, yeah, to give ’em a smile./ It’s good to get high and never come down./ It’s good to be king of your own little town.”
Usually I listen to Tom Petty while I’m grilling, songs like “Breakdown” and “Refugee” and “Jammin’ Me,” which set a nice tempo when you’re flipping ribs and fanning flames and slinging sauce.
“Southern Accents” and “It’s Good to be King” are slow and quirky and kind of sad, and I’ve never listened to them much. But on Monday they came to me out of the blue and they’ve stuck with me since.
I almost said they’ve haunted me, but the overall effect has been comforting. Petty is gone, but his music – which is what I knew of him – lives on.
As news of his pending death spread Monday, everybody went to Twitter to say what we always say when a rock star dies: “Gone too soon.”
But Petty, 66, produced an incredible body of work while touring long and living hard. I’d say he lived a full life.
Everybody also went to Twitter to say what we always say when anybody, rock star or not, dies: “Sending thoughts and prayers.”
This is what we say when there’s nothing else to say. You don’t have to be religious and neither does the other person. That’s why you add “thoughts,” in case somebody wants to pass on your prayers.
Nobody minded all the thoughts and prayers being offered to Petty and his family. It was different earlier in the day, when we woke to news of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Regular folks went to Twitter to send thoughts and prayers to Las Vegas. That was fine. A bunch of sports stars and other celebrities did the same, and that was OK too.
But then politicians joined in, and the ones connected to the gun lobby were roundly criticized for thinking and praying but not doing anything.
That’s politics. When any politician sends a Tweet, he or she is sending a crafted public message, and somebody’s going to criticize them for it.
As for me, I don’t like to send thoughts and prayers through social media. It just seems like a show. For the same reason, I don’t go to Facebook to tell my wife I love her. I mean, can’t I just walk in the next room and tell her?
When you want to show somebody you’re thinking about them, words don’t mean much. The fact that you took the time to visit or call or write a letter or bake some cookies is what matters. Or actually taking time to think about the person or pray for them — nobody down here on earth will know you did that, but why should that matter?
Dashing off a post (“sending up prayers!”) and an emoticon (praying hands!) might be worth something, but everybody’s doing it, even people who don’t know you and don’t have a reason to care.
Maybe that’s just me. I’ll leave you with more Tom Petty:
“There’s a dream I keep having/ Where my mama comes to me/ And kneels down over by the window/ And says a prayer for me.
“Got my own way of prayin’,/ But every one’s begun/ With a southern accent/ Where I come from…”