Tom Petty’s Death and the Future of Music

Legendary songwriter and rockstar Tom Petty passed away on October 2 at the untimely age of 66. Soon, many of his contemporaries will follow him.  Many already have, like Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. This, however, does not mean their music has to die with them.

Tom Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida, and grew up listening to his biggest inspiration, Elvis Presley. It was here that he would form his first band, Mudcrutch, which never received mainstream success. However, after a brief solo stint, he went on to form Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, reaching a national audience with their breakout hit, “Breakdown.” With the band’s second album, You’re Gonna Get it!, Tom Petty cemented his status in the music world. Eventually, he moved to solo projects, producing many chart-ranking records. Full Moon Fever, arguably his most notable solo album, was released in 1989, featuring his signature song, “Free Falling.” Tom Petty’s music has been immortalized, yet it is uncertain whether it will go on to influence the future of popular music.

Contemporary music has existed for less than a century, so it is important to understand that most mainstream music, present or past, is a relatively new cultural development. As music continues to develop, it will follow one of two paths. Either it will continue in a linear, forward direction, or it will follow a more planar path by exploring older genres. Today’s music already has blended older music into their songs. “Everyday” by A$AP Rocky features Rod Stewart’s vocals from his 1972 collaborative song “In A Broken Dream,” with Python Lee Jackson. On the other end of the spectrum, Selena Gomez sampled the infamous “Psycho Killer” bass line for “Bad Liar.” However, there has yet to be a full-on resurgence of a genre, replicating the same sounds that would have dominated the radio decades before.

It seems that people today are very musically open-minded, listening to a wide-ranging selection of music. For this reason, there is a strong possibility that old styles, whether it be rhythm & blues or classic rock, could make a strong comeback in this generation. For the first time, music would retrospectively reflect on itself, filtering out fads and maintaining what makes it timeless.