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Tom Petty Showed Grace And Beauty In Songwriting

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFUGEE")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE FALLIN'")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDFLOWERS")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDFLOWERS")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDFLOWERS")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDFLOWERS")

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