It’s very possible Wildflowers was the last album I purchased while living in my college town. I stuck around for roughly a year and a half following my graduation, working a thankless movie theater management job and soothing my post-collegiate existential disconnection by routinely purchasing music from the finest record store I’ve ever encountered. I don’t believe I owned any other Tom Petty records at that point, but Wildflowers was irresistible. Producer Rick Rubin had just established himself as a sterling shepherd of legacy artists with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. The prospect of him paring Petty’s music down to something lean and pure was downright thrilling.
I have memories of sitting in the crusty bedroom of my last residence in Stevens Point, listening to Wildflowers over and over, finding warmth and honesty in its tones. I especially connected with the title cut, a tender and lovely ballad that spoke to the wounded romanticism I carried around like a overstuffed duffel. The plainspoken grace of the repeated lyric “You belong somewhere you feel free” is as perfect an expression of affection as I’ve ever encountered in a rock ‘n’ roll song, a medium that has no shortage of expressions of affection.
I’m a sucker for silly symbols — knowing the first song I played on the radio or the last movie I saw before moving away from a town. Even so, I don’t actually record those details. I just retroactively come up with a plausible story. So, I will say that Wildflowers helped close out my time in a place that means the world to me. Why not? It was a place where I felt free.
Listen or download –> Tom Petty, “Wildflowers”
(Disclaimer: I didn’t check, but I fully suspect that Wildflowers remains in print and can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a format that will provide compensation to both the proprietor of said store and the all artists who deserve a cut of the proceeds. This song is shared in this space at this time as encouragement to engage in that commerce rather than a replacement for it. More than most, Petty is well-served by the various greatest hits collections under his name, but his full albums — especially the couple that are official solo efforts — a vital additions to a music collection, too. Although I’m sharing this under the auspices of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)