Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The excellent Peter Bogdonavich documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Running Down a Dream, is currently playing on the Sundance channel and not to be missed.

The film contains an amusing story about the band’s first European tour (before they really hit in the US). In Amsterdam heading to Germany, Petty says in the film they all bought bigger blocks of hash than they could possibly consume before crossing the border. Petty threw his away, but bassist Ron Blair chewed his and swallowed it. That night, the band played a 40-minute set for a TV appearance, and although Blair was “very glassy eyed” he “played like a champ.”

“We were on a high adventure,” said Petty, as quick takes of female groupies who appeared to be rolling joints were shown.

Working with producer Jimmy Iovine, a New Yorker, brought new pacing for the Gainesville, Florida-raised Heartbreakers. While Iovine was fast-paced, guitarist Mike Campbell said, “We were from the south…we would sit back and get stoned and discuss it for a while, and jam for a while, and he'd be like, 'C'mon guys, we gotta make a record'.” The band refused the LSD Iovine's two recording engineers brought (and were on during the taping of their third, wildly successful album "Damn the Torpedoes.")

After fighting off record companies twice, first for his publishing rights and then against using the Heartbreakers' success to hike up record prices, Petty and the boys toured incessantly and overused booze (“cocaine was around” said keyboardist Benmont Tench). Petty sobered up after seriously injuring his hand in a drunken rage, and brought in co-songwriter Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics for “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The song’s video has an Alice in Wonderland theme and opens with Stewart as the caterpillar, sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah. “It was like I was taking the band on a trip, and that’s what I did,” said Stewart in the film.

The Heartbreakers took away the MTV Video Award in 1994 for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” (“Last dance with Mary Jane/One more time to kill the pain....”) The following year, Petty won the Best Male Video Award for “You Don’t Know How It Feels” from his Wildflowers CD:

So let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint
Let’s head on down the road
There’s somewhere I gotta go
And you don’t know how it feels
No, you don’t know how it feels to be me

In a bit of Petty censorship, "let's roll another joint" was chaged to "let's hit another joint" on radio versions. The line was also censored at the Heartbreakers' 2007 Lollapalooza appearance. "Girl on LSD,” where Petty sings about being in love with girls on marijuana, cocaine, beer, LSD, heroin (china white) and coffee, was recorded for Wildflowers, but was instead released at the B-side to the “You Don’t Know How It Feels” single.

The Heartbreakers, who have been rocking for 30 years, reached another pinnacle when they played the Superbowl halftime show in 2008. (Bogonovich appeared in the pot-themed film Humboldt County, released in 2008.)


Copyright 2008

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