It’s nice to discover stuff you thought you knew …
That is the case with the DVD; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream (2007)
Everyone knows the hits. ‘Breakdown’, ‘Here Comes my Girl’, ‘Refugee’, ‘Freefallin’. etc etc …
Tom Petty ( in case addition is not your strongpoint) has more hits and has been around longer than any band since the mid-seventies except for The Rolling Stones. Petty and his Heartbreakers have arrived in 2016 as legends.
Watching the DVD ( directed by the legendary Peter Bogdanovich), three things arrive quickly. A trio of thoughts as clear as a Big Mac, Fries and a Coke. One – Tom Petty is a very cool dude, two – Petty is one tough Motherf*cker and finally; Tom Petty is a songwriter’s songwriter.
The film excavates the Heartbreaker’s history. Unearthing gems of information straight from Petty’s voice. Tom, in a strange Lewis Carroll kind of way, narrates his story. Vintage footage the only interruption in Petty’s disclosures. Voiced only as Petty can. Cool, dry and in the true form of someone who loves his ‘Mary Jane’.
Fitting since – it is his story …
‘Mudcrutch’ was the name of the original band.
Petty and his Gainsville, Florida buddies, arriving at legendary status in a town bordered by Alligators. Mudcrutch even forming it’s very own festival to accommodate the fans. A ‘backyard festival that became so large – it had to be cancelled due to ‘success’. A twist of irony which was the precursor to the start of Petty and the soon-to-be-Heartbreakers.
Tom Petty along with some members of the band ( Mudcrutch) headed to LA to get a record deal. Mission accomplished as the group landed not one but two offers. The returned to Gainesville, sold off their possessions and headed West toward fame and fortune. Two things which appeared imminent. A pair of non-concrete entities which arrived with some surprises.
Without giving too much away, their story began with a changing of the name, early success in England and a historic battle with their record company. Petty, upon learning he did not own the publishing rights to his songs, predated his own lyrics. Petty stood up and said;
” I won’t back down …’
At a time when most bands would not ‘bite the hand that feeds them ‘, Petty was as rebellious as a band leader as he was as a young boy. Fighting tooth and nail to keep what was rightfully his. Interestingly, the press he received for his battles, inadvertently worked for him. The adage; ‘There’s no such thing as bad press’ becoming the invisible motto for his legal struggles.
The outcome was positive and unprecedented in the music business. Petty was officially an outlaw.
The album ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ ( which became a mega -seller) was written during his court battles (hence the title) and The Heartbreakers never looked back. The momentum along with Petty’s uncanny songwriting ability, instilling Rock n Roll back into the consciences of a FM radio format that was struggling.
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers saved Rock n Roll.
The nearly four hour long DVD spins the yarns. The drug – fuelled period following the band’s reception of their first triple zero cheques. The musical infighting of the band. The workaholic Petty constantly writing while his bandmates; in Petty’s words – ‘Chased women or whatever it was they did’. Everything imagined by non-fans is magnified, adjusted and added in a fascinating story of a Rock n Roll band. An historical journey into one of America’s greatest poets and songwriters.
Like any tale of the guitar string, facts emerge into the personal history of men and women who obtain ‘fame’. It is human nature to explore, identify and analyze those who achieve greatness and / or obscurity aka ‘ ‘Rags to riches’ or riches to rags’.
Bogdanovich’s microscope discovers Petty’s demons. His beatings both verbal and physical at the hands of his Father. An experience which made Petty both ‘ambitious’ and ‘tough’. A ‘dual’ personality which gave him the intensity to fight his battles. Unearthing this fact also identifies two factors among musicians in general who hit it big. Petty and his story – par for the stage.
Bono, Hendrix, Joplin, Richards, Petty – the list is impressive and long. A common denominator among music stars is they either had bad relations with their Fathers or lost their Moms at a young age. A fascinating discovery of the psyches of many stars who have touched the world’s souls through music and words.
Poetic license for their own pain.
The remainder of the DVD explores the music. Live and studio footage from Tom’s long and winding career punctuated by tales of songwriting, musicianship and relationships within music. It is an exemplary tale of ‘how to stay together’ as a unit.
More historic footage emerges with The Travelling Wilburys front and center. Arguably, the most talented group of musicians and songwriters assembled in a studio. Legend upon legend. Learning and growing off each other. A turning point for Petty and a main reason the Heartbreakers survived and became relevant post – MTV. Tom citing that experience as a refresher course for his songwriting skills.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ ( available on Netflix) is a must-watch for music fans both passing and profound.
Fans will discover new facts and non-fans will become fans. At the least, non-fans will receive Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers in a different light. An admiration earned by a bunch of Florida boys whose passion and commitment carried them through thick and thin.
It’s nice to discover stuff you thought you knew …