When I was a really stupid kid around the age of 15, I fell in love with a gorgeous girl who sat next to me in school. She was the emotionally unstable sort, thus beginning a long spree of always falling for the girls with head issues. But, she was a brunette, and she loved Tom Petty, and we bonded over Damn The Torpedoes. I thought that made her unique. Later, as I grew into a stupid young man, and then into a much older stupid man, I learned everybody loves Tom Petty.
I’m a guitar player. It seems every guitar player falls back on Bob Dylan. Even Tom Petty cites Dylan as an influence, and worked with him when The Heartbreakers were his backup band for a tour, and later when they were both members of The Traveling Wilburys. My Dylan was Tom Petty.
Tom Petty was a guitar player. Tom Petty wrote great songs. Tom Petty rocked. Tom Petty wrote a lot of songs about breaking up, so he probably had a thing for the girls with head issues too. But, like being a cartoonist, you gotta be a little messed up to be a musician.
Petty wrote great lyrics, like as “I’m a bad boy ’cause I don’t even miss her. I’m a bad boy for breaking her heart,” and “I’m running down a dream, that never would come to me, and “I’m tired of screwing up, I’m tired of going down, I’m tired of myself, I’m tired of this town,” He could also be goofy with lyrics like, “I’ll be the boy in the corduroy pants, you be the girl at the high school dance,” and “She give me her monkey hand, and a Rambler sedan, I’m the king of Milwaukee, her juju beads are so nice, she kissed my third cousin twice, I’m the king of Pomona.” Then there’s the one I seem to relate the most with, as a musician and someone who seems to always be moving on from someone with, “it was too cold to cry when I woke up alone, I hit the last number, I walked to the road.”
On top of being a great musician who rocked, Petty stuck to his guns over artistic control and freedom. In 1979, his label was sold to another label, and he refused to be transferred to another label without his consent. It was a battle he won as they moved him to a subsidiary label. Later, when that label attempted to jack up the price for a vinyl album from $8.98 to $9.98 (back when there were such things as albums and people bought them), Petty refused to deliver his newest album until the label backed down. As Petty would sing later, “I won’t back down.”
While being very protective of his work, he could also be lenient toward other musicians. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Strokes both produced uninspiring songs that sounded eerily similar to his awesome tune, “American Girl.” Petty shrugged it off saying that he didn’t believe the Chili Peppers meant anything malicious with it, and he laughed when The Strokes admitted they stole his song.
When I wanted out of the syndication contract I was signed to for over twelve years, I had Petty’s battle with his label in mind. I found every out-clause I could and was prepared to fight. Unlike Petty’s situation, my former syndicate said, “yeah, see ya later.” I continue to maintain control of my work in the spirit of Petty. The man hasn’t just inspired my music. He’s inspired my cartoons.
When the “Don’t Come Around Here Anymore” video came out with its spoof of Alice In Wonderland, Stevi Nicks (who like all of us, wanted to be a Heartbreaker), said it made sense because Tom Petty was the Mad Hatter. Like I wrote earlier, you gotta be kinda messed up to be creative. It’s always the weird ones who stand out.
Petty wrote “even the losers get lucky sometimes,” but Petty wasn’t just lucky. He was amazingly talented. He was one of the few artists who consistently produced great work. He had so many singles that the only downside to attending his concerts was that he had to play all the songs, as you wouldn’t have been able to hear all the great stuff that never made it to the radio.
I was fortunate enough to see Petty and The Heartbreakers in concert. Just as you would expect, Petty is just as cool in real life as he is on TV and in your radio.
One of my biggest heroes, maybe my biggest period, died yesterday and I’m very sad. Tom Petty has hit his last number, and he’s walked to the road. For that, I’m hitting this number for him.