Song of the Day #638: ‘Flirting with Time’ – Tom Petty

I should do a Tom Petty theme week one of these days. He’s written some incredible music during a career that’s spanned four decades, making him more than worthy of the spotlight. But today I’m focusing on a Petty song from his most recent album in order to tell a tale of an encounter in a far off land.

OK, it wasn’t that far off a land… it was Chicago. Alex and I were there for a wedding, enjoying a weekend away from the kids. Whenever I’m in a new city, I always make a point of tracking down the best record stores I can find, whether they’re local and eclectic (like Amoeba Records in San Francisco) or big chains. On this trip, I found myself in a Virgin Megastore downtown (or maybe it was Tower Records… either way, it’s probably closed down by now).

Tom Petty’s Highway Companion had just come out, his first solo album since 1994’s Wildflowers (still his best release). Between those two records he had put out two lackluster albums recorded with The Heartbreakers and Highway Companion was being lauded as a return to form.

I saw the album displayed on one of those headphone banks (yeah, it was Virgin, now that I picture it) and headed over to have a listen.

Before I was very far into the first track, a man approached me and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned toward him and lowered the volume.

“Listen to track three,” he said, and gave a knowing nod as if he’d just delivered the secret to one of life’s great mysteries.

This interaction excited me… immediately I played out a scenario in which track three would blow the top right off of my head and alter my life in profound ways. Years in the future, I would look back at this serendipitous moment and credit my good fortune to the man who selflessly guided me to track three of Tom Petty’s Highway Companion. Moments like this, I thought, don’t just happen… they happen for a reason.

And then I played track three.

‘Flirting With Time’ is a fine song, probably one of the better ones on the album. But it isn’t very special. It’s pretty standard Tom Petty Byrds-rock. Why my anonymous benefactor felt the need to steer me in its direction, I will never know.

Perhaps, for whatever reason, it was a life-altering experience for him and he wanted to give that gift to somebody else. Or maybe he was just fucking with me.

A coyote ran across the road
On the move without a home
A flash of light reminded me of you
This could well be your last stand
Hold the sunlight in your hand
Spread your fingers, feel the sand fall through
I’ve done all I can do
Now it’s up to you

You’re flirting with time baby
Flirting with time, but maybe
Time baby, is catching up with you

Shadowmen talk a real good game
Every punchline has your name
You cried out and no one came to you
I’ve done all I can do
Now it’s up to you

You’re flirting with time baby
Flirting with time, but maybe
Time baby, is catching up with you

Should be more to learn from this
Can’t say I know what it is
No difference ‘tween a hit or miss, it’s true
I’ve done all I can do
Now it’s up to you

You’re flirting with time baby
Flirting with time, but maybe
Time baby, is catching up with you

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #638: ‘Flirting with Time’ – Tom Petty

  1. Dana says:

    Funny story. Perhaps he was trying to tell you the end of days was coming:)

    Anyway, I have liked what I have heard from this album, and I really need to give it a bit more attention. It saddens me that Petty didn’t continue to do great work after Wildflowers. I know he still has great music left in him.

  2. Amy says:

    I love this story; it illustrates one of the things I love the most about music – the way it connects people. The fact that a man walking through a record store notices that a complete stranger is checking out an album he knows and appreciates makes him feel a sense of camaraderie; in order to complete the connection, he shares a tip. It’s just fabulous, isn’t it?

    Hell, why not track three?!

  3. Amy says:

    Track three is “Fiona.” I’m sensing a bit of sideways Desmond here 😉

  4. Clay says:

    On The Road to Ensenada?

  5. Amy says:

    Clearly. I’m seeing many significant track three’s. I think you need to reflect a bit more deeply on the visit from this gentleman.

  6. Dana says:

    especially when the album is called LOST Highway and the track is called Flirting with TIME! Did the guy in the record store look like Desmond?

  7. Amy says:

    It’s actually called Highway Companion, but that works nearly as well 🙂

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