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Too Cool for Tom Petty?

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Some good reading:

Life Out Here: Please do be Petty

By BRET KOFFORD, Columnist | Posted Yesterday

I was too cool in school, and for years afterward, for Tom Petty.

Petty was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, therefore too mainstream for my tastes. I was into alternative rock bands such as The Jam, The Clash and X.

Sure, I liked Tom Petty’s music, appreciated the craft, the spirit, the engaging melodies, the signature ringing-guitar, clipped-vocal approach, but I kept it on the down-low, even if his lovely chin-up, spurned-lover lament “You Got Lucky” helped me through some deeply depressed months after I was unceremoniously dumped.

What’s really sad about all that is I knew Tom Petty and I liked Tom Petty. I didn’t know him well, but I met him a few times.

He would come into the used record store where I worked, Moby Disc in Sherman Oaks, and look through the racks for music, sometimes asking staff for opinions. He mostly perused the old blues and country. He knew more about those genres than we did, but he asked us what we thought anyway.

He couldn’t have been nicer, particularly considering he was, after all, Tom Petty, international rock superstar. Other music-loving stars regularly came into the store to browse, including Cybil Shepherd and Sherman Hemsley, but the employees liked Tom Petty the most. At least I did.

He tried to go undetected, but that’s not easy when you are a skeletal, blond rock star with a startling unique voice, both in singing and speaking. We tried to not make it a big deal when Tom — we flattered ourselves by calling him Tom, as if we were his pals — came into the store, but we loved having a famous person, and a nice one at that, in our establishment.

That is a roundabout way of saying I no longer care about being cool and disaffected. I recently purchased a best of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers CD. The rest is history, American music history. And I may soon be history if I keep bopping instead of driving when that album is playing in my car stereo.

Tom Petty, simply, is one of America’s seminal rock musicians/songwriters. The rap against him always has been that he is too overtly influenced by Dylan and The Byrds. That’s like saying a baseball player is too influenced by Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays. Could you ask for better influences?

The fact is Petty synthesized his influences into a sound all his own, which was tacitly acknowledged by other all-time music greats George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Dylan himself when they formed, with Petty, the Traveling Wilburys super-group.

Petty, accompanied by his longtime Heartbreakers sidemen, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, has recorded songs imprinted forever in America’s musical memory: “American Girl,” “Breakdown,” “Refugee,” “Free Fallin’” “I Need to Know,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Learning to Fly,” “Into the Great Wide Open.” We could go on and on.

My favorite Petty anthem is “Listen to Her Heart,” which Campbell opens with one of music’s most beloved guitar riffs, followed by Petty singing/whining, “You think you’re gonna to take her away/With your money and your cocaine.” (Internet wiseacres insist Petty is singing, Hank Hill-style, “You think you’re gonna to take her away/With your money and your propane.)

Petty, a legend at 63, still makes music. When he releases an album (it’s been three years but he reportedly has one ready) the reviews are good to great and sales are strong. He also hosts “Tom Petty’s Buried Treasures” on Sirius XM, which is the best radio show — now radio station — ever.

Loving Tom Petty has always been cool. For a long time I just wasn’t cool enough to know it.

Bret Kofford teaches writing at

San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus.

He can be reached at Kofford@roadrunner.com

http://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/life-out-here-please-do-be-petty/article_b0e58542-25b0-11e3-b603-001a4bcf6878.html?mode=jqm#.UkMDbLRWG6w.facebook Edited by SingsInFrench

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Lovely article. I wish I could write as well as this about TPATH. What interests me is that Bret talks about Tom being too mainstream. For me, personally, I've always viewed him in the same way as The Clash and The Jam. Tom's always been my idea of "alternative". That's why I chose him as my favourite Wilbury - because he didn't seem to be as "mainsteam" as the others.

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