The Curious Case of Thomas Earl Petty

He’s made at least one quality album in five different decades. He’s a rock star despite his turned-the-corner-and-got-smacked-with-a-frying-pan looks. He’s had his house burned down by arsonists and toured with Bob Dylan. He’s played Live Aid, Bonnaroo, and the Super Bowl. He’s fought with record companies and been the subject of a 4-hr documentary. When he was 10, he met Elvis. He’s on the shortlist of Greatest Video Hitmakers of the 80s, but he’s also a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer who really does seem like he’d be cool to have a beer with.

He’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a guitar strap. He’s Tom Petty.

Seriously, does anyone hate this guy? Sure, some might not love all his music. Some might be a bit turned off by his Dylanesque whine, or maybe they find “Free Fallin’” a bit annoying and overplayed. But does anyone hate Tom Petty? I don’t think so.

Without recounting his entire career, the broad strokes of it are a case study in… in… I’m not sure what. Petty and his career are just so unique for someone who comes off so ordinary. The first sentence of his bio on allmusic.com mentions that he was “shoehorned into the punk/new wave movement” of the late 1970s, but would anyone confuse Petty with the Sex Pistols or Talking Heads? He often shares sentences (and fans) with Bruce Springsteen, but even this Springsteen fanatic must admit that it’s Petty who exudes the regular-guy cool that Bruce has (ironically) tried so hard to personify.

His turn as the Mad Hatter in the infamous video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is one of the indelible images of MTV’s heyday, inexplicably tying him to the likes of Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the more-usual suspects who brought some artistry to the commercial art of video making.

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