I can’t say how old I was or where I was when I heard my first Tom Petty song, because I simply don’t remember, but I do remember the summer of 1999- that was when I fell in love with Tom Petty's music.

I grew up in a conservative Christian home where mostly all we were allowed to listen to was Christian music and songs from musicals. For the most part, the only time we didn’t listen to either of those types of music was on Saturday mornings when we’d hunt for bargains at garage sales with my grandma. When we were in the car with our grandma, she’d almost always turn on a local Albany radio station that played secular music.

The local radio station my grandma would let us listen to played “easy listening” music. You know, the kind you remember listening to as a kid when you’d visit the doctor or the dentist. They played the music of John Mellencamp and REO Speedwagon, Chicago, and Phil Collins. In all fairness, my mom would occasionally turn on that same station and one of those times, I told her, very matter of factly, that when I grew up I was going to be a DJ on that radio station. Surprisingly, my mom didn’t laugh or tell me it would never happen. As a matter of fact, it would be my mom who would push me to follow through with making my dream a reality. It would be my mom who would call (unknown to me) and talk to the manager of the station to find out what she needed to do to make sure I was educated and prepared to apply for a job there one day. It would be my mom who would help me find a good broadcasting school, and it would be my mom who turned on the radio at home nearly 10 years later to listen as I hosted my first radio show on the station that all those years before I told her I'd work for.

The first full summer that I worked as a DJ on that Albany radio station, I was the proud owner of a limited edition Z28 soft top Camaro. My 19-year-old self had absolutely no business owning that car, but I was young and needed to learn a thing or two about life.

That summer, I’d fallen in love with a perfume sold by Mary Kay and somehow the bottle I'd just bought shattered on the floor of my car. I remember it like it was yesterday because I was driving down the Thruway on my way to work with the radio turned up, singing to Tom Petty's "Free Falling" at the top of my lungs. The top was down, the sun was shining and a beautiful scent from the broken perfume bottle filled the air. It’s been 18 years, but whenever I hear that song, I can literally smell the spilled perfume. I can feel the sun on my face, even if it’s a cloudy day. I can feel the wind tossing my hair around even if the air is still. I was young and I was so full of life. When Tom Petty died, a huge part of my youth also died.

I learned a lot about myself in the summer of 1999. I was opened to a world of exciting and new-to-me songs and artists. Songs and artists that remain favorites to this day. While “Free Falling” tops my list of most loved Tom Petty songs, these five were also played on repeat in the CD player I velcroed to the dash of my Camaro during the summer of '99.

  • I Won't Back Down

  • Refugee

  • Mary Jane's Last Dance

  • You Don't Know How It Feels

  • You Wreck Me

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