I cranked ‘Even The Losers’ as loud as the truck speakers let me.
And I drove the winding road home with Tom Petty in the passenger seat, telling me that even the losers get lucky sometimes, even the losers keep a little bit of pride.
They get lucky sometimes.
I first heard that song when I was 9. My older sister had ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ on cassette tape in her car, and I’d turn on the ignition and listen to the album from the driver’s seat because I didn’t have a stereo in my room. The third song on side 1 was was my favorite, with the sound of a train and some random lady’s voice about the normal noises in here butted up against the descending guitar line.
But now, in high school, ‘Even The Losers’ actually meant something.
So I pushed the truck speakers to the brink that day, that fateful day, and sang with Tom in the passenger seat. Over and over and over again.
My friend Mike Harris understood. Sometimes we’d sing that song to each other in the outfield as we ran down fly balls freshman year. We’d bonded in the way that kids on the fringe sometimes do, when the stupidly small world of high school seems aligned against the quiet guys. He was a big kid with a mild stutter who hadn’t quite figured out how to move his super-sized limbs yet, and I was a short and sensitive late-bloomer a long ways from blooming.
I heard that Mike figured out how to move those super-sized limbs and became a star pitcher in college, and then an orthopedic surgeon after medical school.
I say ‘heard’ because I lost touch with Mike.
And now it’s too late.
The first song I learned to play on the guitar in high school was a Tom Petty song, and those three chords opened a door into a room where I had something different to offer, a room where what I brought to the table mattered. As I made my way through the songwriting world, it was impossible to find someone who wasn’t influenced by Tom Petty.
We all covered him, all the time. And sometimes we didn’t even know we were covering him.
Even recently, when Sean Watkins was producing my next album, we toyed with the idea of leaving out a certain guitar part because the notes hinted at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers riff.
But we decided that anything remotely Petty-ish was a welcome blessing, so we left that guitar part in.
A few days ago that song went to the mixing engineer.
And later that afternoon, I found out that Mike Harris died.
You were never a loser, Mike.
But you probably just welcomed Tom Petty to the stage in the sky, playing air guitar and singing ‘Even The Losers’ anyway, as one of the greats joined you.
And tonight I’ll drive another winding road home, with Tom Petty in the passenger seat telling me that even the losers get lucky sometimes. Even the losers keep a little bit of pride.
They get lucky sometimes.
And I’ll turn to him and say thanks for everything.
But it won’t be enough.
Sean plays a lot of music with one of the Heartbreakers. I said to him, “What a legacy. Only thing I can think of that compares would be when Springsteen goes.”
Sean said, “I know, and Dylan. It's all happening at some point. In the meantime we enjoy each other and continue putting music and good vibes into the world. Speaking of which, when are you coming back down south?”
That last thing that Sean said, about enjoying each other and putting music and good vibes into the world?
I bet Tom Petty would consider that thanks enough.