Friday, 10 September 2010

Tom Petty and the untold story of rock-and-roll

"I was always struck by how many great rock musicians lost their mothers when they were very young. That would be Lennon and McCartney, the guys in U2, Madonna, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Sinéad O'Connor. It becomes an incredible list...if you look for it," says MTV executive Bill Flanagan.

"And I said that to Bono once - both he and Larry Mullen of U2 lost their mothers when they were kids - and he (Bono) said, 'It seems like the untold story of rock-and-roll is either your mother died or your father hated you...And, if like me, you were lucky enough to have both, there's no limit to what you can accomplish!'"

Listen to the audio clip (The Untold Story...), you'll hear rock legend Tom Petty explain how his fraught relationship with his father and his mother's premature death ignited his ambition, creativity and rage. "Those two factors, the dangerous shadowy figure of a dad and the sweet mum who left too early in your life, gives you a certain drive," says Petty (above photo).

"...There was an extreme rage in me that from time to time would show it's head...Any sort of injustice just outraged me. I just couldn't contain myself," adds Petty. 

"And this comes from my Dad just being so incredibly verbally abusive to me. He was certainly physically abusive at times and would give me pretty good beatings."

Flanagan says "some kind of anger...beyond normal teenage rebellion", like "a rocket fuel", draws artists like Petty into taking stands in adulthood against malevolent forces. Petty built his band's worldwide fan-base over 35 years with great songs and musics but also by famously refusing to make the normal compromises many artists make to get ahead. 

One giant record company tried to grab Petty's publishing rights to his songs. Another sought to exploit the growing popularity of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by raising record prices across the board. 

Petty strenuously fought both record companies, telling them "Look, I will sell fucking peanuts before I give in to you." The music business gasped collectively when both record companies eventually caved.  Both record companies finally realised Petty was  never going to back down.

Audio extract - The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll - clipped from the inventively crafted epic documentary, Runnin' Down A Dream, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, 2007 (240 minutes).

Photo: courtesy of Billboard

Paul Coleman, London, September 2010

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