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I’ve listened to more Tom Petty songs in the past week than I have in any week over the past 20 years. I didn’t even know the song I Forgive It All (2016) existed until yesterday and it’s already in my top ten all-time Tom Petty songs. He performed it with members of the band (Mudcrutch) he had back in his Gainesville days.

The music video features Anthony Hopkins and was directed by Sean Penn and Samuel Bayer.

Related post:
Tom Petty’s Gainesville Roots

Scott W. Smith

One of the great things about the arc of Tom Petty’s career is he got to have an entire musical experience that’s almost impossible to do these days. He learned to play guitar as a teenager and worked hard on his craft, had a regional following in Florida, and after a decade of performing landed a record contract in Los Angeles.

He had 15 Gold Albums, and according to Billboard “scored a record 28 top 10 hits on the Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart, more than any other act in the chart’s 36-year history.” He played concerts where he filled large stadiums, won Grammy Awards, traveled the world, got to perform with his musical heroes (Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Johnny Cash), and made music videos in the 80s and 90s when MTV was a force and there was a lot of money to make trippy videos.

While he won back to back MTV Awards for best male videos in 1994 (Mary Jane’s Last Dance) and 1995 (You Don’t Know How It Feels), two of my favorites are Into the Great Wide Open (featuring Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway), and Walls which has a cameo of Edward Burns as a cab driver. (That song is featured on the She’s the One movie which Burns wrote, directed, and starred in.)

And for good measure check out this version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. 

Scott W. Smith

Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there
Was a little more to life
Tom Petty/ American Girl

You’ll probably never watch a double feature one night of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), but one thing that connects those movies together is the Tom Petty song American Girl.

And for good measure here’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing the song during the NFL Super Bowl half-time show in 2008.

Scott W. Smith

I got my own way of talkin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from
Tom Petty/ Southern Accents

“The reason to make it in Florida was to make it out of Florida.”
Warren Zanes
Petty: The Biography 

The Beatles had Hamburg to refine their sound, Tom Petty had Gainesville.

When Petty died earlier this week a few places mentioned that he was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida before his success as a musician on the world stage. But since a part of this blog is about a sense of place, I’d like to spotlight just what it meant that Petty was from Gainesville.

The first time I visited Gainesville I was struck how it was unlike any place I’d ever been. I was 17 years old and hadn’t ventured far from the Orlando suburbs where I was raised. I was part of a high school football team that made the two hour drive north to play a game on the same field where the University of Florida played their games.

That was 1978 before cable Tv and the internet so I didn’t really have a frame of reference of what a college town looked like. We pulled into Gainesville and it was magical. The late afternoon sun hitting historic brick buidings that seemed more at home at an Ivy League school than in Florida. We drove down fraternity row where some guys were drinking beer next to a firetruck parked on a frat house lawn, and it seemed as if every coed was jogging around campus. (Jogging was big in the ‘70s.)

This was not the part of Gainesville where Petty came from, but it helped pave the way for his success.

I was in the redneck, hillbilly part [of Gainesville]. I wasn’t part of the academic circle, but it’s an interesting place because you can meet almost any kind of person from many walks of life because of the university. But it’s really surrounded by this kind of very rural kind of people that are — you know, they’re farmers or tractor drivers or just all kinds of — game wardens, you name it. So it’s an interesting blend. 

My family wasn’t involved in the college. They were more of ‘white trash’ kind of family. And so I have that kind of background, but I always kind of aspired to be something else, and I made a lot of different friends over the years that were passing through.”
Tom Petty
NPR interview with Terry Gross

The closet Petty got be a student at the University of Florida was working as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida. But the large campus, and the Lipham Music store where students and local muscians hung out, did help him get his musical education.

“Gainesville, Florida [in 1972] had become fully hippie, with a lot of mushroom-potion drinking going on.”
Jeff Calder

(To get a taste of the kind of interesting people connected with the University of Florida during Petty’s time there, check out the post Writing Quote #40 about author and professor Harry Crews.)

Gainesville has long had a reputation as a party school, and in Petty’s day that gave bands nightly musical opportunities to play. A step up from the teen dances and Moose Lodges he started doing when he was 14.

A lesser know fact is Petty took guitar lessons for 18 months as a teenager from Don Felder—as in Don Felder, member of the Eagles (1974-2001)—and co-writer of the song Hotel California. Felder himself took slide guitar lessons from Duane Alman. That’s the kind of musical talent kicking around Gainesville in the 60s and 70s.

“Tom Petty came in [the music store where I taught] one day, gosh, he must’ve been 12 or 13. He had been playing bass in a band called the Epics that I knew as the Rucker Brothers Band and he wanted to play guitar… so I started teaching him to play and went over to his house a couple of times and hung out and heard him play and went over to two or three of the Rucker Brothers’ shows ’cause it was a bit of a train wreck. I kind of helped put them together in the sense that one of them would play rhythm and one of them would play lead while Tommy was playing bass and just help sort through their band to help these kids put their garage band together…. Growing up together in Gainesville and seeing one of my students blossom as an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter has been one of my most fulfilling experiences in this life.
Don Felder
Billboard article by Gary Graff 

Both Petty and Felder would both go on to become more than local legends. And they weren’t alone.

“Eight musicians with musical roots in Gainesville in the ’60s and ’70s have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash; Buffalo Springfield), Don Felder and Bernie Leadon (the Eagles), and the original lineup of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair. That’s a remarkable showing for a small college town.”
How One Sleepy Southern college town changed the history of rock ‘n’roll

”An unusual number of people came out of that small little north central Florida town that went on to become platinum-selling recording artists and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. The closest thing I can draw it to is the same sort of phenomenon that happened at Motown or around Memphis or in Nashville, where in certain areas there were so many people that kind of influenced each other or developed a similar style and that same group of people went on to stay involved in music because of that love and excitement in music.”
Don Felder

As Petty and third band Mudcrutch (after the Sundowners and Epic) became a popular regional band playing clubs and large music festivals (“mini-Woodstocks”) and they even opened for the Jacksonvile-based band Lynyrd Skynyrd. By the time Petty headed to Los Angeles in 1974 the 24-year-old had a solid ten years of playing and performing experience. He would go on to sell 80 million albums.  But the seeds were planted and nurtured right there in Gainesville, Florida.

“However long it had been since he’d run away from Gainesville, Florida, from the rednecks and college boys calling out for ‘Satisfaction,’ however long it had been since that town had both loved him and kicked him down its main streets, he knew it was the place that made him. He didn’t find rock and roll in Malibu. He’d brought it with him.”
Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography

In the world of film outside of Los Angeles, Austin and Portland have an excellent track record of having that kind of iron sharpens iron vibe that Gainesville had musically back in the day. And over the years I’ve tried to show little pockets around the world where people come from on their way to bigger success.

Yes, screenwriters can even have roots in Iowa. Three solid examples are Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls and screenwriter/podcaster John August (Big Fish), who both studied journalism and/or theater at Drake University in Des Moines, and Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was media studies student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City).

Related Posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Aiming for Small Scale Success First 
Aaron Sorkin in Jasper, Alabama
Start Your Own Writers/Actors Workshop

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
I Won’t Back Down written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lyne

I wrote [I Won’t Back Down] with Jeff Lynne. We wrote it in the studio while we were mixing another song. And it came very quickly. And I was actually worried about it. I thought that it was maybe just too direct. You know, I thought, well, there isn’t really anything to hide behind here, you know? It’s very bold and very blunt. There’s not a lot of metaphor or any – you know, anywhere to go. But I was encouraged by Jeff that, you know, no. It’s really good. You should record this and go ahead with it. And it’s turned out to be maybe, you know, the one song that’s had the most influence on people that approach me on the street or talk to me in a restaurant or wherever I go or mail that I’ve gotten over the years. It’s been really important to a lot of people in their lives. And I’m glad I wrote it. And I’m kind of proud of it these days. And I was very, very proud when Johnny Cash did it.”
Tom Petty
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross

Scott W. Smith

“A good song should give you a lot of images, you should be able to make your own little movie in your head to a good song.”
Tom Petty (who wrote the song Free Fallin’ in a day)
Billboard

“When I hear a Tom Petty song it takes me to a place where I just got no problems.”
Songwriter Paul Williams, Variety

It’s a crazy world we live in and I’m not even going to try to add to the noise in the immediate aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas. It’s been a heartbreaking couple of days.

But in hopes of keeping this blog on track, here’s a clip from the movie Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise and featuring the music of Tom Petty (who died yesterday), followed by that section of the script by Cameron Crowe showing that emotional song was not an afterthought.

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“The most powerful and essential documentary on race, class, and gender, in America in years.”
Anne Helen Petersen
BuzzFeed article on O.J.: Made in America

“The Juice is loose” was a phrase used back in O.J. Simpson’s pro football days when the running back would break into the open field on the way to another touchdown. It’s a phrase you’ll undoubtedly hear and read a lot in the coming days since Simpson was freed from prison in the middle of the night.

He’s been incarcerated since 2008 and has expressed a desire to return to the state of Florida. If he does, he could just end up another Florida Man (@_FloridaMan).

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But because this is a screenwriting/filmmaking centered blog—this is a good time to spotlight the ESPN produced documentary O.J.: Made in America, a film by Ezra Edelman. The film won an Academy Award Award for Best Documentary Film earlier this year.

There’s at least a final chapter to be written on the life of O.J. Simpson. Various reports have said Simpson led a Bible study in prison and even has hope of becoming an evangelist.

“If you’re really reformed and rehabilitated, if you’re really remorseful, if you’re really a born-again Christian, then let’s move this discussion forward. Admit your sins.”
Chris Darden, former prosecutor in O.J. Simpson murder trial
Today, June 17, 2017

Way back in 1989 Chuck Swindoll wrote a book called Living Above the Level of Mediocrity in which  he dedicated one of the chapters  to retelling the story of a man who’d overcome poverty, Rickets, and gang life to become a “fine and refined gentleman…[who] lives in the exclusive Brentwood district of Los Angeles, drives a luxurious car, and has his elegant office in an elite bank building. He is now a busy executive with his own production company. ” That man was O.J. Simpson.

In the movie The Natural when asked “what happened?” the baseball player Roy Hobbs says, “Life didn’t turn out like I expected.”  To that I’m sure Simpson–the former football great, Hollywood celebrity— would say “Amen.” We’ll see if Simpson’s last chapter—some how, some way—is a redemptive one.

Related posts:
The People v. O.J. Simpson
An Earthquake of Interests

Scott W. Smith

 

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