Today we honor the memory of Tom Petty with the Rock File’s review of an epic live show in 2013.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
May 20, 2013
New York, NY
Tom Petty brings you back.
Back to those classic moments when you were growing up in a suburb of a Florida suburb and wondered how it was possible that every Petty song could be about you and your scrawny little pimple-faced teenage life.
Back to the memory of a Marine named Victor who lived next door and used to change his oil in his driveway, illegal because the oil would seep into the already rotten egg Florida water supply but a kind of a good ol’ boy macho ritual having your hot rod on cinder blocks on the front lawn so to speak. So Victor the Marine would blast “Rebels” over and over and over and I always wondered if he really got the full meaning of the song or did he just think it was like written about him because “Rebels” is really all that needs to be said about Victor the Marine:
I was born a rebel, down in Dixie On a Sunday mornin’ Yeah with one foot in the grave And one foot on the pedal, I was born a rebel
Back to the memory of a Disney World Grad Night sometime in the 80s where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were the evening’s live entertainment. Disney Grad Night, a kind of all-night high school bacchanalia dedicated to letting kids run wild and rampant through the surreal and fucked up landscape of Disney World, which is either a big mistake or a stroke of genius, depending on who you ask. So like the high school seniors hop a bus to Orlando and pack Gatorade growlers mixed with vodka and of course your PE teacher/chaperone doesn’t know anything about the lime green booze concoction, or he totally does but couldn’t care less because he’s too fucking high and it’s simply too goddamn hot to actually give a shit about anything, especially a bunch of kids getting their Grad Night groove on. So Petty is the entertainment for this fine Florida tradition, which happens between the hours of like midnight and seven in the morning and the park is closed to the public which is very cool, but at some point you find yourself tripping balls in the Haunted House, whether from psychedelics or lack of sleep or vodka-flavored Gatorade or just plain 18-year-old excitement at being able to do whatever the fuck you want in the middle of the night in the middle of Walt Disney World.
But is that really Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing in Never Never Land? Fuck, this is like the best night ever.
Back to the memory of that first time you heard “American Girl” and how rad it was that Petty was name-checking State Road 441 and of course that leads directly to all those moments of you racing down that cracked-up Florida highway in that beat-up shit bucket 1978 Toyota Corolla that you had spray painted baby blue because that was the only color the high school body shop had leftover that year. So when Petty ends the concert with “American Girl” you may just be the only one in the audience screaming out the lyric Out on 441 like waves crashin’ on the beach because of course it has so much meaning in your personal history and encompasses pretty much everything about living in Florida in the late 70s, and how did he get it so right and how is it possible there’s so much truth and meaning in all of nine words anyway?
Which almost impossibly brings us back to the live Petty experience that’s going on right now and how it’s real and true and classic and essential and totally and fully American—but not in that Antiques Roadshow sort of way and certainly not in the F-16 flyovers at baseball games kind of thing but something more—along the lines of an old story that has traveled through time and generations and has gained regional accents and slight revisions and updates but has arrived fully formed in the present. So Petty’s songs are the core experiences, the time-stamped memories and the place-in-time dynamics that solidify your place in the world. Your sound compass, your life soundtrack.
It’s like you know the trail started somewhere but you’re not exactly sure how far back it goes but you know it’ll be there way after you’ll be anywhere.
So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Love Is a Long Road
I Won’t Back Down
Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)
Cabin Down Below
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)
Billy The Kid
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
To Find A Friend
Angel Dream (No. 2)
I Should Have Known It
Runnin’ Down a Dream
You Wreck Me
I make my way to the front of the stage at Botanique cause that’s the best way to experience Swans live. The guy to my right is looking at his newly bought 3 Euro earplugs as if to say I think I’ll wait and see if I need these so I do him a solid and lean in and say Oh yeah, you’re gonna need those and he looks at me and realizes I’m probably right so he quickly rips open the plastic bag, so I feel good about saving that dude’s hearing. And then I notice a woman to my left who has her earplugs hanging in her cleavage and I realize this ain’t her first rodeo and I appreciate the professionalism. I realize it’s all about the earplugs so I’m looking around obsessing about ear safety and tinnitus and wondering how many people here tonight will go home with a certain level of hearing loss. (This other guy next to me doesn’t have plugs and ends up covering his ears for the entire show).
So Michael Gira finally makes his way to the stage and I notice to my amazement that he’s not wearing earplugs and this strikes me as rather insane because, well, this is Swans live.
Aja (1977) was my intro to Steely Dan. Musta heard it in the early 80s. It was everywhere back then. Sold like a billion copies. Super-slick jazz-rock. Or something. Never could tell where Steely Dan fit. Which was part of the draw. I went backward from there, the records getting weirder, gnarlier. Their early sound was rougher but still catchy, complex, absurd.
At some point, it was uncool to like Steely Dan. Maybe they became too commercial, too soft, too weird. Who knew? But you certainly weren’t advised to blurt out your affinity at a kegger. Might get you punched, or dumped.
The Dan picked up some punk cred when Minutemen covered “Doctor Wu” on their masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime (1984). So that was cool. But then, Steely Dan were punks. Becker and Fagan had to have New York sized balls to drop Aja right in the middle of ‘77, punk rock’s Year Zero.
At Fillmore East was the album I jammed every day after school. Was never loud enough. Kept going back to the scorching “Stormy Monday” and the riptide hurricane “Done Somebody Wrong.”
7 songs over 4 sides. And I knew every note, every riff.
And the cover photo. Looked more like a bunch of outlaws than musicians. The Allmans defined Outlaw Music Cool.
Growing up in Florida, the Brothers were part of the heritage, the fabric, the heart and soul of the state. You’d hear them daily on classic rock radio. It all made perfect sense.
My parents told stories about seeing the Allmans at the Fillmore East back in the day. This was around the time of At Fillmore East when the jams would last until sunrise and clouds of pot drifted over the crowd like a late afternoon Florida thunderstorm.
Damn, those boys could play.
Good night Greg, your sweet Southern soul made this world a magical place.