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Tom Petty Showed Grace And Beauty In Songwriting


Tom Petty wrote a lot of hits during his more than 40 years making music.


TOM PETTY: (Singing) Well, she was an American girl.


PETTY: (Singing) You don't have to live like a refugee.


PETTY: (Singing) And I'm free - I'm free fallin'.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: As much as Petty was known for these kind of big classic rock anthems, he was also capable of I think just tremendous grace and beauty in his songwriting.

SHAPIRO: All week we've been remembering people who died over the course of a year, and we asked Stephen Thompson of NPR Music for this year-end appreciation of Tom Petty, who died in October.

THOMPSON: I've always thought of Tom Petty as kind of a rock 'n' roll everyman, kind of a blunt and grounded singer in a sea of musicians who tried to cultivate mystique. And it's not that Petty didn't have mystique. I think he was a genius. He had kind of an arty side. He could be mercurial. But his biggest hits and his public persona were about a kind of plain-spokenness, a kind of directness. He used more one-syllable words than most songwriters. And I think because of that, his songs could really get their hooks into you. He was basic without ever being boring.


PETTY: (Singing) You belong among the wildflowers. You belong in a boat out at sea.

THOMPSON: When you listen to a song like "Wildflowers" from 1994, it's a really profound statement of compassion and hope in the face of disappointment and loss.


PETTY: (Singing) Run away. Find you a lover. Go away somewhere all bright and new.

THOMPSON: There's something beautiful about wishing for someone's happiness, especially if you've had a complicated relationship with that person, especially if you're in the aftermath of a breakup. If you can look at a relationship that you've had and your takeaway from it is, I want that person to be free; I want that person to have everything they want in the world, that is such a beautiful note of grace.


PETTY: (Singing) Run away. Go find a lover. Run away. Let your heart be your guide. You deserve the deepest of cover. You belong in that home by and by.

SHAPIRO: That was NPR Music's Stephen Thompson talking about Tom Petty's song "Wildflowers." Petty died from cardiac arrest in October. He was 66.


PETTY: (Singing) Far away from your trouble and worry... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)