Phil Cook and Heather Cook
celebrate Andy Tennille and Tom Petty
at The Pinhook
by: Aaron Mandel
It is hardly revolutionary to say that most anthropologists conclude music proceeded language. We were making sounds before we distilled those sounds into words and sentences.
As he noted later, “that is kind of everything.”
Commemorating Tom Petty at The Pinhook with a tribute called “Even the Losers” the team of promoter and community activist, Heather Cook, and the uber-talented musician, Phil Cook, put together an all-star Durham line-up of music makers.
The show also celebrated Andy Tennille, Tom Petty and the Heatbreakers official tour photographer. Heather Cook is curating a series called the “Lobby Call” at The Durham hotel. The night after The Pinhook show, on the roof of The Durham, Tennille shared stories and photos from seven years working with Petty and the band, plus nearly two decades covering music for the likes of Rolling Stone and more.
Heather Cook told me that she knew that “with Tom’s passing, he [Tennille] could use some music therapy.” She spoke to him at a two night Hiss Golden Messenger run at the Haw River Ballroom. Tennille was photographing. It was his first time picking his camera back up since Tom Petty died.
Heather Cook said, “In times of trouble, trauma and discord, we need art to help contextualize our feelings and our experiences. We talk a lot about this at home. [Cook is a mother, too.] Music and all art, what the role of art and artists is in Durham, the south, etc. The quote from Toni Cade Bambara, comes to mind, ‘The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.’”
Tom Petty was an American icon. As Phil Cook noted that night and other cultural commentators have pointed out since his passing, Petty’s music is at a nexus where our national melting pot blends. Beloved across demographics. The diverse audience at The Pinhook underlined that reality. There were people of all ages. In front of the stage, a mother and daughter sang along, as we all did.
Phil Cook gave us permission to, right off the top. He told us that was how this night was going to go and that we should embrace it. When we knew the words, we (the audience) had darn well better pipe up. You better believe the whole room sang. And The Pinhook was packed.
It was the cave and the drums and the shadows on the wall.
It was the Durkheimian ritual of collective participation raising the individual soul higher.
If you have ever participated in such a communal sing along, whether it was at sleep-away camp, a church, on a bus, or in a car, you know that singing can take the soul to transcendent places.
It was cathartic as we collectively mourned Tom Petty.
As Heather Cook put it, “We need art to build empathy and understanding for the feelings and experiences of others. The relationship of art and audience is such a special transfer of energy that requires an inherent trust. It’s a beautiful intangible language that has the ability to cross all the barriers we put up as humans.”
The performances were electric.
Kym Register of Loamlands and Midtown Dickens crushed Love is a Long Road. In true Durham fashion,(1) they was also our barback for the evening.
Next up was Joe Hall of Blanko Basnet and Hammer no More the Fingers. He is a breathtakingly good guitarist, it was joy to behold.
And it just kept going from there.
Keil Jansen, the founder of Ponysaurus Brewing, killed my personal Tom Petty favorite, “Yer so Bad”. Little did in I know, Jansen was a member of Mount Vernon (an early iteration of DeYarmond Edison that later became Megafaun // Bon Iver).
Phil Cook told us a magical story of how Keil, Phil’s brother, Brad, and Phil had loaded up the moving van from Wisconsin to head for North Carolina. Ready to leave their youthful home and all they had ever known behind. As the struck out, they put the music on shuffle. The first two tunes were Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” and U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.
We seek music and music finds us when we need it.
Live music is ephemeral and as such, it reminds us of our own mortality. Example, if you saw Tamisha Warden’s gospel performance of Free Fallin’ live at The Pinhook you will never, ever, ever forget it.
Molly Sarle, one third of Mountain Man, nailed “You wreck me”.
Even the winners of the karaoke a Tom Petty tune contest, friend of the Clarion Content, Allie Mullin and Brian Rice, did a great rendition of “You Got Lucky”.
One of the highlights of the evening, and you better believe the crowd sang every word, was Skylar Gudasz’s cover of “Last Dance with Mary Jane.”
Shirlette Ammons owned her cover of “American Dream Plan B”.
Part of the majestic power of the evening was the coterminous demonstration of the musical malleability of these Petty’s songs and the artists’ gifts. The words rung out Petty, but the tunes bespoke the originality of each artist.
Rissi Palmer did a terrific version of “Never Be You”.
When M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, along with nearly all of the musicians and the entire crowd joined in for “Even the Losers”, we all felt and drank in the moment together.
Music can encapsulate our humanity.
1 In Durham, we are a mix. We crossover roles. We aren’t so high falutin that the musician is too proud or uppity to be the bar back. Fucking A, they the owner, too. In Durham, we all make the arts and the socio-cultural mix.
2 I went to the first night of Heather McEntire’s two dates at The Pinhook and saw the amazing “Durty Dub” open instead of Kamara Thomas.