The End of America pays tribute to Tom Petty in "He Was A Friend of Mine" - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Like a lot of us, Philadelphia folk rock outfit The End of America has Tom Petty on their minds this afternoon. Two years ago today, the world lost the beloved staple of Americana rock and roll, and as evidenced by the flurry of tribute concerts that popped up immediately following his passing — and still happen regularly, to this day — his impact on subsequent generations of songwriters was massive.

As a tribute of their own today, The End of America released their version of “He Was A Friend of Mine,” an American folk standard that’s been recorded re-recorded numerous times over the years, by artists from Dave Van Ronk to Bob Dylan. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Byrds offered a version of it; in the aughties, Willie Nelson put a spin on it for the end credits of the queer cowboy tragedy Brokeback Mountain.

As the band tells us in an email, “there are few people who’s music has made as strong an impact on our lives as Tom,” noting that his music is, for many, inseparable from the experience of growing up in America in the late twentieth century.

Reflecting on his music in the wake of his passing offers a bittersweet opportunity to see how far we’ve come since the first time heard albums like Wildflowers or Damn the Torpedoes. Each anniversary is like running your fingers over the notched height markers on the door jambs of the houses we grew up in. Those tiny grooves can prompt us to mourn the passing of time and the people we can’t get back. 

Yet these anniversaries also give us the opportunity to reflect on the richness and joy we’ve experienced over those same years. Even though they’re only seen in the rear view of our memories, they’ll always be with us, guiding every turn we take as we move forward. 

As I’m sure Tom could relate, life is a tour down a long and winding highway and there is no greater gift than having trusted traveling buddies in the van with you. Be they people, stories, or songs, life’s quality can be measured by the character of these companions. 

On October 2nd, we sing our song to offer our sincerest gratitude to Tom for the music that acted as the hooks  upon which we hung some of our most precious memories. Looking back as individuals and as a national/global community, he gave us so much to be thankful for. Yet despite the real value of all that nostalgia, his true gift is one that’ll never appear in the rear view as we travel down that highway. It’s the gift of constant companionship.

Below, celebrate Tom Petty with The End of America’s version of “He Was A Friend of Mine.” The band’s next Philadelphia concert takes place on Saturday, December 7th, at the Loft of City Winery; they also play Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem on November 1st. Information on both can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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