Tom Petty is a man. A man who draws deep water on this website. A man from Florida who made an album. An album that came out 25 years ago, when Tom Petty himself was a robust 39.* An album called Full Moon Fever. An album that you would almost certainly enjoy, general readers.
Having been a teenager during the mid- to late-1990s stage of Petty’s fame, when MTV and M2 (long since renamed MTV2) were still actually curating videos by famous and sub-famous musicians alike, I got a heavy dose of the strange, intermittently brilliant visual complements to the Petty singles that were all over the radio, and kind of still are, if you limit your definition of “radio” to classic-rock stations in large American cities.
This video, for example, is fantastic. It gives you plenty of smirking, lowbrow meta-textuality, and besides Petty doing his stoned-Mad-Hatter thing at the front and back ends, you get the elaborate hair of Jeff Lynne and George Harrison, complex shirts all around, and Ringo Starr looking like a blind Muppet (I’ve been told this final association only makes sense to me). The camera goes all sorts of places, y’all. Fun. As a visual text it befits “I Won’t Back Down,” my favorite of the album’s ten songs (when my favorite isn’t “The Apartment Song” or “Yer So Bad”), all of which are near-perfect articulations of transatlantic (but still distinctly American) garage-pop.
Tom Petty with his flimsy hair and that dry suggestion of a twang, what a mensch. A man without a home country, having adopted LA after escaping north Florida, his audience is getting older. That’s a shame. Many people in their teens and 20s would dig Full Moon Fever. I bumped it in my Camry when I was seventeen; my dad and I both liked it. In aesthetic terms, its cover is pure bedroom-poster material. Young people, you need not relinquish your skateboards and body sprays to embrace Tom Petty!
The opening riff of “I Won’t Back Down” slices and lingers, establishing a basic sadness that persists beneath the song’s general catchiness and collaborative ethos. The lyrics, rigged as urgent couplets and more spacious choruses, mirror this tension. Like Petty’s incomparable voice they seem resigned to being optimistic.
* The 3/31 “Hollywood Prospectus” podcast on Grantland drew the date to my attention. I am indifferent to large swaths of the pop-culture landscape that Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan have taken as their bailiwick, but they are thoughtful dudes, and they spend the last twenty minutes of this episode talking about why Tom Petty’s music is amazing.