American Master

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
Beacon Theatre
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
Good Enough
(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
American Girl
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One Response to American Master

  1. JOSEPH POPP says:

    Beautiful writing about a great artist. I was lucky to be at this show with you and I remember rushing the stage on the final few songs. Security told us to sit down but we didn’t. RIP Tom.

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