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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Petty’

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Refugee, music and words  by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell

“I hated my father long before I knew there was a word for hate…I remember hating him even when I was in diapers…I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction.”
Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

While I could continue with my run of posts centered around rocker Tom Petty who died earlier this month, I found a way to turn the corner listening to the Scriptnotes podcast, Episode 321. And, actually, at the same time this post makes a connection to the roots of much of Tom Petty’s pain throughout his life.

Before we get to the concept of method writing, first let me set the stage by letting Petty recount a traumatic event he had as a youth that involved a slingshot, a Cadillac, and a belt.

“I had this crappy slingshot my father had given me, a plastic thing, the first one I ever had. I was in the yard shooting this slingshot. And cars are driving by. I’m just like, ‘I wonder if I can get a car’. And whack! This big Cadillac. It was going by pretty slowly, and I just nailed the fin on that thing.

“The car came to an immediate stop. The driver got out, and he was so f**king mad. … I felt kind of weird, not ­knowing what was coming next. But when my father got home later, he came in, took a belt and beat the living s**t out of me.

“He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that. Five years old. I remember it so well.

“My mother and my grandmother laid me in my bed, stripped me, and they took cotton and alcohol, cleaning these big welts all over my body.”
Tom Petty
 Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

That may have been the first beating Petty got from his father, but it wasn’t the last one. And I don’t know if that first beating left a physical scar, but I do know it left an emotional scar. Petty knew that his childhood was far from the aspirational Ozzie and Harriet life that he saw on TV, but it would take decades for him to realize that being a successful rock star—or drugs and alcohol— could heal his childhood scars.

You don’t have to look far to see where Petty’s rebel spirit, angst, and bouts with depression came from. Though it would take Petty himself a few decades and some counseling to recognize his scars.

Everyone has scars and on Scriptnotes, Episode 321 screenwriter John August and Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, have this exchange about using your scars in your writing:

GRANT FAULKNER: I like the method acting approach to writing that you’re really applying your own personal emotional experience to the characters you’re creating. Actually there’s a Shelly Winters quote where she says, ‘Act with your scars.’ And so you can apply your scars to any character. But I do think that requires, like method acting, a lot of introspection.  

JOHN AUGUST: When I read writing the feels very real, when the characters seem like they have flesh and blood,  I do think that’s because the author has invested a bit of himself or herself into their experience. That author has a very clear sense of that character’s inner emotional life  because he or she is using things in their own life to sort of proxy for it. When I was doing the script for Big Fish there is a sequence at the end where Will is going through the story of his father’s death and I knew this was going to be incredibly emotional thing for the character, but also for the audience watching it. So I was incredibly method writing where I’d bring myself to tears and then start writing. It seems crazy and ‘why would you do it that way?’— but I’m pretty sure the only reason I got to those specific words and those specific images was because I was at that emotional state as I was writing it…I would encourage people to try those things, because what’s the harm of trying those things? …Write those feelings that you know. Use the things that are specific and unique to you to help create something specific and unique moments for your story.

GRANT FAULKNER: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think the stories that I connect with most—I agree with you—the writer or creator has done something that is just so personal, he or she has made themselves vulnerable— they’ve gone deeper. I really think vulnerability on the page is more important than any craft advice, or craft tips that you might write with. And that’s where with [the] Shelly Winters [quote] “Act with your scars” is really going deep. Be willing to reveal your scars on the page and go there. 

P.S. I don’t always find a direct Iowa connection to these posts, but couldn’t miss on that Scriptnotes podcast that there was a guy from small town Iowa talking to a guy who did went to college in Iowa. Grant Faulkner was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa (and went at Grinnell College in Iowa) and John August did his undergraduate work at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Related post:
Emotion—Emotion—Emotion
Nostalgia: The Pain from an Old Wound
Screenwriting Quote #182 (Richard Krevolin) “All characters are wounded souls…”
Tom Petty and The Untold Story of Rock & Roll  (In a word; scars.)

Scott W. Smith

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Success is dangerous to longevity. It’s just a dangerous thing, it’s an overwhelming thing, and used in the wrong way it’s really destructive.  Surviving that in our earliest days was—we came out of that pretty lucky. We had a lot of good people around us.  A lot of good advice.

But you don’t ever want to be complaining about how hard it is to be successful, but it is hard. It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground. To trust people. To not get isolated, because with success and fame it tends to isolate people. It tends to push you away. You’ll go anywhere for privacy or just to feel normal. So I’ve had to grow up with that. Kind of grow up in public, I guess. But very early on Elliot Roberts, who worked with [our manager Tony Dimitriades] for about ten years, had a lot of experience with Neil [Young], and Crosby, Stills & Nash and all that— I just saw him at the [Hollywood] Bowl the last night we were there, and I love Elliot— but he told me very early on, I think it was before Damn the Torpedoes had come out, he said, ‘look I got a feeling that this record is going to a big hit, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. Think about how many things are hits that aren’t good. You don’t want to get tied up in that. What you want to think about is making good work. You’re going to make a lot of records—they’re not all going to go to the top of the charts. But they can all be good.’ And he said the thing is worry about the product, not anything else, and over time that will sustain you. And I thought that made a lot of sense… Don’t get caught up trying to top yourself every time commercially, because nobody does.”
Tom Petty (who sustained in the music business for 40+ years)
LA Times interview with Randy Lewis 

Related Post: The 99% Focus Rule (Screenwriter Michael Arndt quote)

Scott W. Smith

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I just listened to the what the  L.A. Times called “Tom Petty’s final interview”  so I guess I’m not finished yet with my string of posts on Petty. The quote comes when Grammy-winning guitarist John Jorgenson (who started out a clarinetists) came up in the conversation.

“The guy’s off the map. He’s off the map, and guitar’s not even his first instrument…his touch is so beautiful. It’s like people who are always looking at guitars—it’s not the tool, it’s the touch. You can buy Pete Townshend’s rig, but you’re not going to sound like Pete Townshend.”
Tom Petty
L.A. Times interview with Randy Lewis on 9/27/17 (Five days before Petty died)

Back when I was a teenager I remember a tennis coach playing with the smallest, oldest racket he could find to show other players that “It’s not the racket, it’s the player.” A different spin on the tool verses the touch. Keep that in mind when you get caught up pursuing the latest writing/editing software, camera gear, and lights. Now with that said, when the top talent, tools, and touch come together that’s when the magic happens.

P.S. For those of you in L.A., Jorgenson will join Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen at the Troubadour on October 23.

Scott W. Smith

 

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Now I’m walking this street on my own 
But she’s with me everywhere I go 
Yeah I found an angel, I found my place 
I can only thank God it was not too late
Tom Petty/Angel Dream

I’ll round out a couple of weeks of posts centered around Tom Petty with a quote pulled from the Peter Bogdanovich directed 4-hour documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream that touches on the mystical side of creating.

“I really don’t understand it. But I do know that it seems that the best [songs] often just appear. Like you’re sitting there with your guitar or piano and bang—there it is. It just falls out of the sky. I hesitate to even try to understand it for fear that it might make it go away. It’s a spiritual thing.”
Tom Petty

What’s clear from that Petty documentary (and other interviews and biographies) is he experienced incredible highs and incredible lows throughout his life. His life was full of joy and pain. Who can’t identify with that? Many have written that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed the sound track of their lives. I have 23 of their songs on my iPhone that have been in heavy rotation since Petty died almost two weeks ago. His words and music over the last 40 years evoke a wide range of emotions from exuberant to melancholy. And I imagine they’ll be the soundtrack of life for generations to come.

Related quotes:
How to Write Songs
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting Quote #55 (Stephen King) “There is no Idea Dump… ”
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Write What Hurts
Tom Petty’s Gainesville Roots

Scott W. Smith

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“Elvis Presley kicked off my love of music. That was the dream I followed.”
Tom Petty

Just two days ago Tom Petty helped me solve a mystery that I’d been curious about for several decades.  It had to do with the day when Petty was 11-years-old and introduced to Elvis Presley by his Uncle Earl.

Earl Jernigan was a very interesting guy. He wasn’t a southerner. He was the only northerner in the family. And his love was film, motion pictures. And he had the only business in town that was a film business. He had the only place where you could develop film or buy it.

And anytime there was a shoot, probably within a hundred miles, he would go…He had done Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and he actually had one of the cool rubber suits of the creature in his house, and we thought that was so cool.”
Tom Petty (as told to Paul Zollo)
Homegrown in Florida (Edited by William McKeen)

Jernigan also worked on the Tv show Sea Hunt (1958-61) which was shot at Silver Springs —near Gainesville, Florida where Tom and Earl lived. And Jernigan also shot and developed film for the University of Florida football team.

Reading Petty’s account of his uncle reminded me of a question I’d had since I was a teenager. Back in 1981 when I was 19-year-old photojournalist for the Sanford Herald in Central Florida I went back to Lake Howell High School to cover a spring training football game. I ended up being given 16mm films from two of my best high school football games.

I remember when I was given the films I thought it odd that the label said Gainesville rather than the bigger cities of Miami, Tampa or Orlando. Why Gainesville? That was the mystery. So after reading Petty’s words I walked into my home office and quickly found the old 16mm films and sure enough the name on the label read Jernigan’s Motion Picture Service.  

Film.jpg

Mystery solved. Tom Petty’s uncle developed that film—or at least his company did. That also may explain why Petty talks about growing up poor but had 8mm family films and of his first bands that were featured in the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. (I grew up in a plain cement block house in Florida—without air-conditioning— and nobody that lived around me had a fancy 8mm camera.)

When Petty was 11-years-old Petty’s his uncle was working on the set of Follow that Dream (1962) starring Elvis Presley, and Petty’s aunt took him to a filming one day in Ocala, Florida (about half an hour from Gainesville) and the future rock star Tom Petty was introduced to the King.

“He stepped out, radiant as an angel. He seemed to glow and walk above the ground. It was like nothing I’d ever seen in my life. At fifty yards, we were stunned by what this guy looked like. And he came walking right toward us. And his hair was so black, I remember that it shined blue when the sunlight hit it. And he walked over and we were speechless. My uncle said, ‘These are my nieces and nephews, Elvis.’ And he smiled and nodded at us. I don’t know what he said because I was just too dumbfounded.”
Tom Petty
Homegrown in Florida

That first brush of fame marked Petty for life. He also took notice of the crowd of girls behind a chain link fence trying to get an autograph of Elvis and thought at the time, “That is one hell of a job to have. That’s a great gig—Elvis.” Petty went home and traded a Wham-O slingshot for a box of 45 records that included Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and Jerry Lee songs. He said he wasn’t thinking about being a musician then, just being a fan of music.

If Elvis kicked off his love for music it was the Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan show in 1964 that gave Tom Petty the idea that he could actually learn to play the guitar and start a band.

So there you have it, a kid from Gainesville inspired by a kid from Tupelo and some kids from Liverpool going on to have a 40 year musical career until his death last week. Here’s what it looked like in 2006 when Petty returned to Gainesville.

P.S. That Lake Howell v. Lyman football game that I got the films from was the first high school football my father ever saw me play. My mom and dad got divorced when I was seven and for whatever reason he didn’t come to a high school game until the two he attended my senior year. I scored a total of four touchdowns in those two games and that Christmas he bought me my first 35mm camera. That was by far the most expensive gift he’d ever given me and it helped set me on the creative path that I’ve been on ever since. In fact, that Konica TC was the camera I used when I worked for the Sanford Herald.

Related post:
Tom Petty’s Gainesville Roots

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
Learning to Fly, lyrics by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne

“The people who make it and make it as long as [Tom] Petty has made it have to have some kind of rocket fuel driving them. I get the sense from the songs that there is some kind of anger in Tom that was beyond normal teenage rebellion. There was something that drove him out of Gainesville and drove him through all of these battles and refusals to back down to the normal way business is done. Or to even make the normal compromises that people make to get ahead. I was always struck by how many great rock musicians lost their mothers when they were very young. That would be Lennon and Paul McCartney, the guys in U2, Madonna, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Sinead O’Connor—it becomes an incredible list if you look for it. And I said that to Bono once and he said, ‘It seems as if the untold story of rock and roll is either your mother died or your father hated you. And if you’re lucky enough to have both there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.”
Bill Flanagan
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream doc

Tom Petty, like Bono, had both.

“Those those two factors—the dangerous shadowy figure of a dad, and the sweet mom that left to early in your life—gives you a certain drive. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but when I look back on it I sort of turned that anger into ambition. There was an extreme rage in me, that from time to time, would show it’s head through a lot of my life. Any sort of injustice enraged me. I just couldn’t contain myself. This comes from my dad being so verbally abusive to me. He was certainly physically abusive to me at times, he would give me pretty good beatings most of my life….I remember my mom taking a few to the face trying to get between me and my dad.”
Tom Petty

“Not receiving any blessing from your father is an injury…Not seeing your father when you are small, never being with him, having a remote father, an absent father, a workaholic father, is an injury.”
Robert Bly

“Every man carries a wound. I have never met a man without one. No matter how good your life may have seemed to you, you live in a broken world full of broken people.”
John Eldredge

And, of course, women aren’t excluded from mother/father wounds or living in a broken world, full of broken people. I recall reading an interview with Madonna talking about her rocky relationship with her father and how if her mother hadn’t have died when she was young that Madonna would probably be a housewife in Grand Rapids. Madonna had rocket fuel.

And rocky father relationships aren’t limited to rock and roll as super high achievers such as comedian Steve Martin, novelist Pat Conroy, and surfer Kelly Slater are just the start of a long, long list of those with father issues.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Inspiration is never really very far away if you look for it. It’s all around you, you know…. When a song comes, it’s kind of magical. You know you’re picking up some kind of signal.”
Tom Petty
Interview with Charlie Rose in 1999

Here’s how Petty said he wrote the song Wildflowers:

“I just took a deep breath and it came out. The whole song. Stream of consciousness: words, music, chords. Finished it. I mean, I just played it into a tape recorder and I played the whole song and I never played it again. I actually only spent three and a half minutes on that whole song. So I’d come back for days playing that tape, thinking there must be something wrong here because this just came too easy. And then I realized that there’s probably nothing wrong at all.”
Tom Petty (Not sure where the quote originally came from)

Related Post:
Inspiration Flying Under the Radar
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Creativity and Milking Cows

Scott W. Smith

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