"I love doing my 'Buried Treasure' show," he said, ever the rock star in his military-style jacket, loose fitting pants and aviator shades, even while espousing fan-boy sentiments. "It keeps me listening like I used to do. I always listen. I could come home and I would spend the rest of the night just lying on the floor or the sofa listening to albums. It was like a movie to me. I still do really, and doing the radio show ensures that I'll be sitting there listening."
After six rewarding but also physical demanding months on (mostly) and off (hardly) the road, Petty was supposed to get a moment to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the return to domestic life with Dana, his wife of 16 years, and the rest of their family, including his two adult daughters, Adria and Annakim Violette, from his first marriage; Dana's son, Dylan, from her previous marriage; and their 4-year-old granddaughter, Everly Petty.
Even though the notion of kicking back in a hammock sounds antithetical to everything he's ever believed in, or practiced, he said, "I just have to learn to rest a little bit, like everyone's telling me. I need to stop working for a period of time.
Still, he confessed, "It's hard for me ... If I don't have a project going, I don't feel like I'm connected to anything. I don't even think it's that healthy for me. I like to get out of bed and have a purpose."
Petty always had a purpose, and a man like that, a man with a purpose, should have had more time -- weeks, months, years -- to practice what he called fishing and others call songwriting.
"It's kind of a lonely work," he said, "because you just have to keep your pole in the water. I always l had a little routine of going into whatever room I was using at the time to write in, and just staying in there till I felt like I got a bite.
"I compare it to fishing: There's either a fish in the boat or there's not," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes you come home and you didn't catch anything and sometimes you caught a huge fish. But that was the work part of it to me. ... I just remember being excited when I had a song done, and I knew I had a song in my pocket, I always felt really excited about it."
I was one of many blindsided by the news of his death on Monday. As we sat, just a few days earlier, he was vibrant, full of enthusiasm, still the epitome of the coolest rock star you'd want to sit down for a chat with. He laughed easily and often, occasionally dropping his voice into a softer mode when outlining just how precious his band, his music and his family were to him. The only gripe he had was about the hip he cracked shortly before the tour started, which he was now finally addressing.
This is not the Tom Petty story I intended to write because I intended to write a "next stage" story.
Everyone assumed -- fully expected -- there would be more time for this fisherman to add yet more brethren to the bevy of beloved songs that have integrated themselves into American popular culture. Classic-rock staples including "Breakdown," "American Girl," "Refugee," "Even the Losers," "Learning to Fly," "Listen to Her Heart," "Here Comes My Girl," "Walls," "Mary Jane's Last Dance."