The late, great Tom Petty had a career like no other; he had a complex and inspirational line of expressions that won over millions of fans. Over the course of the following 40 years, after making his mesmerizing debut in 1976 with his gut-punch debut Album Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, he would carve out a place for himself that is unmatched by anybody else. He was not only regarded as one of the best American composers of all time, but he also had a voice that was distinctive for the period.
By the 1990s, Tom Petty and his voice were perhaps as common in American rock music as the electric guitar. The number-one single “Learning To Fly” featured both his distinctive singing voice and writing flair.
Petty, like many of his contemporaries, had a distinctive sound that he had perfected. Contrary to his contemporaries, Tom Petty made the decision to keep to a sound framework rather than try new things with each album, as musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen had done. Many have attempted to emulate Tom Petty, but no one has completely grasped Americana the way that he did. His distinct storytelling style contributed to his skill in this area.
Tom Petty’s talent as a lyricist is most evident in songs like “Learning To Fly.” The song by Tom Petty was misunderstood as being about drugs by many listeners, but the genuine meaning is considerably more fascinating. He had been watching a TV interview with a pilot who had claimed that learning to fly was relatively simple and that the hardest part of flying was landing. Even though Petty certainly used drugs while writing the song, the abrupt change in inspiration is typical of his unique viewpoint.
The environment Tom Petty lived in and his closest contacts also had an impact on the song. Tom Petty chose the song to express his thoughts on the band dynamics while also discussing the Gulf War that was raging at the time. Tom Petty took a solo risk on the previous album, however, the Heartbreakers were back for Into The Great Wide Open. According to Tom, who spoke to Billboard, “I wanted that song to be a kind of redemptive song, but only in the vaguest way, certainly not literally.”
The song is connected to another one of Tom Petty’s endeavors. He co-wrote the song with former ELO vocalist and Traveling Wilburys bandmate Jeff Lynne. Soon after Tom Petty’s demise, another former bandmate, Bob Dylan, would also use this song to honor him: “It’s shocking, crushing news. I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him,” in 2017.