I watched the first Tom Petty song I ever heard: 1993’s ”Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” In the music video, a quietly amused guy in a top hat danced with the pretty blonde from Batman who appeared to be dead. He seemed both playful and dangerous, and, to preteen me, a peer of Björk, Kurt, Courtney, PJ and Eddie -- this gang of rock’n’roll characters who helped kids like me reframe our insecurity and oddness as freeing, not humiliating.
Petty was born in 1950. His childhood was steeped in Elvis and cowboy movies, his adolescence in the era of ’60s rock and radicalism. But the decade of his formative creative galvanization, the 1970s, was about alienation, disenfranchisement and disillusionment. Petty’s wry yet romantic songwriting matched the emotional pitch of his mid-baby boomer mini generation: too young to have ever believed that all you need is love, too old to really embrace Gen X’s ironic detachment.