Sunday, August 15, 2010


I've been listening to a lot of Tom Petty's music lately.  The Heartbreakers, The Traveling Wilburys, Mudcrutch and his solo stuff too. I'm going to see him in concert later this month, and I can't wait. I haven't missed a Petty tour in... I don't know how long. He is one of my favorite artists ever.  When he sings, I believe him.  I believe that what he's singing about matters.  To him and to me.  And I like to believe that most of his fans feel the same way.  Which is why I have always been puzzled at the reaction that his 2002 album, The Last DJ got.

I guess, on the surface, it came off like a millionaire rock star complaining about how things aren't as good as they used to be. That was certainly the cynical view of the album. Fine. But Petty's music deserves better than a cursory listen and it isn't really for cynics anyway.

The album is really about the breakdown of values.  It's about how money buys everything, damn all the consequences, and damn what's right. People wrote it off as Tom complaining about the music industry, but he just used the industry as a sort of example: having been a professional musician for over a quarter of a century at that point, I think that makes sense. He doesn't know as much about the car industry, or the food industry.

I can accept that it may be a bit naive: the idea that "money becomes king" certainly wasn't novel in 2002 when the album came out, and certainly not in the music industry. You don't need me to tell you about greed in the music industry.  But did you know that at Woodstock in 1969, no swag was sold? It just hadn't occurred to the powers-that-be that you could make tons of music off of music-related merchandise. Decades later, record labels want a piece of an artist's merchandise sales as part of the deal when they sign them. One of the reasons that the music industry has failed (in my opinon) is that music fans had felt ripped off by them for years, when they had a way to "get back" (by illegally downloading music for free) they had no problem with doing so. I've been at concerts this summer where Live Nation was selling discounted tickets for future shows - $10 for tickets by major, multiplatinum artists. Also known as "chickens coming home to roost."

Looking outside of music, when you see what banks and investment firms and oil companies have gotten away with in the past few years... the damage they've caused, the lives they've destroyed, and the slaps on the wrist that they've recieved: the head of BP did lose his job... albiet with a $18 million severance. BP will supposedly be able to write off their gulf clean up efforts on their taxes. And how many of millionaries in the banking and finance industry are experiencing the financial difficulties that their victims are suffering through? I wonder what will happen when these chickens come home to roost.

I think it's kind of a bummer that this album isn't celebrated as one of Tom's finest. He's never been really big on social commentary, and it's no surprise that he's backed away from it since The Last DJ (on his solo album Highway Companion, the Mudcrutch reunion/debut album and the recent Heartbreakers effort Mojo). I listen to the album pretty frequently, and shudder at how much of what he was singing about was true.  And  I love how he ends the album with "Can't Stop The sun," which has the lines "and you may think you control things, but there'll be more just like me, who won't give in, who'll rise again." 

No comments: