SOUTHERN ACCENTS: The Audio Media Revolution 9781501333446, 9781501333453, 9781501333460

By 1985 Tom Petty had already obtained legendary status. He had fame. He had money. But he was restless, hoping to stret

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Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Contents
Track Listing
Side One
Side Two
Introduction
Down South
Who Did You Expect to Meet?
The outliers
The Shadow Southern Accents
Southern Accents
Rebels
Born in the CSA
Free Fallin’
The Best of Everything
Acknowledgments
Notes
Introduction
Down South
Who Did You Expect to Meet?
Southern Accents
Rebels
Born in the CSA
Free Fallin’
The Best of Everything
Also available in the series
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SOUTHERN ACCENTS Praise for the series: It was only a matter of time before a clever publisher realized that there is an audience for whom Exile on Main Street or Electric Ladyland are as significant and worthy of study as The Catcher in the Rye or Middlemarch … The series … is freewheeling and eclectic, ranging from minute rock-geek analysis to idiosyncratic personal celebration —The New York Times Book Review Ideal for the rock geek who thinks liner notes just aren’t enough —Rolling Stone One of the coolest publishing imprints on the planet—Bookslut These are for the insane collectors out there who appreciate fantastic design, well-executed thinking, and things that make your house look cool. Each volume in this series takes a seminal album and breaks it down in startling minutiae. We love these. We are huge nerds—Vice A brilliant series … each one a work of real love—NME (UK) Passionate, obsessive, and smart—Nylon Religious tracts for the rock ’n’ roll faithful—Boldtype [A] consistently excellent series—Uncut (UK) We … aren’t naive enough to think that we’re your only source for reading about music (but if we had our way … watch out). For those of you who really like to know everything there is to know about an album, you’d do well to check out Bloomsbury’s “33–13” series of books—Pitchfork For reviews of individual titles in the series, please visit our blog at 333sound.com and our website at http:​//www​.bloo​msbur​y. com​/musi​cands​ounds​tudie​s Follow us on Twitter: @333books Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/33.3books For a complete list of books in this series, see the back of this book.

Forthcoming in the series: Hamilton by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Switched on Bach by Roshanak Kheshti Timeless by Martin Deykers Tin Drum by Agata Pyzik The Wild Tchoupitoulas by Bryan Wagner Blue Lines by Ian Bourland Diamond Dogs by Glenn Hendler xx by Jane Morgan Voodoo by Faith A. Pennick Boy in Da Corner by Sandra Song Band of Gypsys by Michael E. Veal and many more…

Southern Accents

Michael Washburn

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2019 Copyright © Michael Washburn, 2019 For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. 117 constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover design: 333sound.com All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: PB: 978-1-5013-3344-6 ePDF: 978-1-5013-3346-0 eBook: 978-1-5013-3347-7 Series: 33 –13 Typeset by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

Contents

Track Listing

vi

Introduction 1 Down South 17 Who Did You Expect to Meet? 39 Southern Accents 65 Rebels 73 Born in the CSA 87 Free Fallin’ 99 The Best of Everything 111 Acknowledgments Notes

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Track Listing

Side One 1. “Rebels” (5:21) 2. “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” (Petty, Dave Stewart) (5:12) 3. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Petty, Stewart) (5:07) 4. “Southern Accents” (4:44) Side Two 5. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” (Petty, Stewart) (4:23) 6. “Spike” (4:23) 7. “Dogs on the Run” (Petty, Mike Campbell) (3:40) 8. “Mary’s New Car” (3:47) 9. “The Best of Everything” (4:03)

Introduction

Let’s start at the end. September 25, 2017, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, around 10:00 p.m. “We’re almost out of time,” Tom Petty says, then strikes three D chords in quick succession, “We’ve got time for this one here.” In six minutes Petty’s public career will be over. Petty and the Heartbreakers will finish the song, thunderously and to thunderous applause, and then they’ll stay on the stage for about two minutes, longer than usual for this tour. They’ll take a few bows. Petty will wish a good night on his audience, and then he’ll linger on stage after the band retreats, signing a few autographs for lucky first row fans before limping offstage as the walk-out music swells. Seven days later his life will be over. But before that we have four minutes of music. Just as Petty’s third D starts to decay, drummer Steve Ferrone counts the band in, and Petty and the Heartbreakers lock into the last song of their fortieth anniversary tour. He’s peak Petty that night, in aviators, unbuttoned black vest draped causally over a long sleeve black shirt, red neckerchief, tan Chelsea boots. Petty prowls the stage playing a white

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Fender Electric XII, and then he steps to the mic and belts out in his late-career, Dylan-esque sneer, “She was an American Girl / raised on promises.” “American Girl,” the final track on the Heartbreaker’s first record and the last song he’ll ever sing in public, is as perfect a rock song as there is. There are other songs that rise with perfect concision from that deep well of exhilaration, confusion, and desire that fuels the robust yearnings of America. But I doubt you’ll find better. “Raised on promises” could be the national motto. It should adorn our currency, the contemporary American English for “In God We Trust.” Not that the phrases are synonymous. A promise is probably a poor substitute for a god, but it’s what we’ve got if we’re lucky and realistic—promises and hope. At his best Tom Petty excelled at articulating promises and hope, fulfilled and fallow. One of the things that rock offers is triumphant hope. Rock in its triumph mode, regardless of what bittersweetness resides in the lyrics, is open windows, open roads, open vistas. In America, the image of the road itself is often linked to such aspiration, with opportunity just beyond the horizon, and reinvention or perfection obtained if you can just satisfy your restlessness and find a better spot to call home. All you need is a soundtrack to hold you to your pace. Few did this kind of hope—and the attendant rages of desperation, anger, longing, passion—like Petty. It’s an ageless passion. Tracks like “Refugee,” “The Wild One,” “The Waiting,” “Straight into Darkness,” “Running Down a Dream,” and so many more feel as vital today as when they were recorded. At its best, Petty’s music doesn’t age into dotage like so many of his contemporaries. The songs sound clean, fresh, and vibrant. 2

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Affirmations that even if things get sticky, it’s ultimately gonna be alright. Which is how “American Girl” sounds at the Hollywood Bowl. This final performance isn’t perfect. Much of the stage action feels premeditated, nearly identical to other shows on this tightly scripted tour, and guitarist Mike Campbell takes a hard, halting ride on the song’s ebullient, iconic closing solo. But it’s close enough for rock ’n’ roll. The Heartbreakers are a working band—most decidedly not a historical reenactment—closing a show and tour with a sturdy classic. The Commonwealth of Petty goes bonkers for this song, of course. I dropped in on some shows during the 2017 tour, and the crowds were always the same. Earlier that night they surely streamed into the Hollywood Bowl buying beer, spilling beer, smiling, maybe getting prematurely redeyed and a bit belligerent. It’s hard to responsibly generalize about Petty’s audience because it’s like generalizing America. Yes, it’s usually the white, middle-aged, or older, bulge of America, but you take the point. Despite the reality that in any collection of 20,000 individuals, people will hold fast to irreconcilable cultural tastes, political opinions, and moral commitments—despite the rancor and distrust that threatened in 2017 to become our most passionate national pastime—when the band tears into “American Girl,” the double-time backbeat, that muscular yet ethereal chord vamping, that slinky, liquid bass line that acts like a gyroscope bringing the band in for a landing at the start of the verse, the crowd, already euphoric, feels the electric thrill of shared rock ’n’ roll communion. 3

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Throughout the band’s life, the Heartbreakers retained quite a bit of purity when it came to their stage shows. The fortieth anniversary tour is no different. This gig could’ve been back at the Whisky a Go Go. The primary concession to rock stardom is the ever-present screens, several-stories high, displaying real-time footage of the band or other videos or images. Much of the video footage throughout this evening featured people—archival shots of skinny kids singing soonto-be classics on shows like England’s Old Grey Whistle Test. But, different images accompany “American Girl.” A question. What does the phrase “American girl” conjure in your mind? I’d wager that many of you think of a white girl. Mary Ann or Ginger, fresh-faced or sultry. The subcategory doesn’t matter as much as the likelihood that in most of your minds, your American girl is white. Not for Petty, tonight. Just as he sings the song’s first lines—the thing about being raised on promises—the screens transition from abstract swaths of color into images of women. At first the screens show the stereotype: fresh-faced white women and the open road. But soon there’s an African American family, a Latina soldier, and Alexis Arquette, the transgender activist and actor who died from HIV-related complications in 2016. Photos and videos of dozens of women cross the screen, young and old, all ethnicities. As the song speeds toward its end, hundreds of snapshots cross the screen, growing smaller as they gain in number before dissolving into a cartoon rendering of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in the American flag. As the song ends, Lady Liberty’s torch and crown preside over the audience. And then it’s over, both the show and Petty’s career. 4

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Now, we shouldn’t give Petty a round of applause for figuring out that not all women are white. But he did punctuate this tour and, however unexpectedly, his career, by playing one of his most durable creations against a backdrop that both asserts and celebrates America’s multiracial society. In the moment it doesn’t matter that such assertions of American racial harmony are optimistic fictions. Though the optimism might have been naïve, and the message of solidarity and diversity delivered with a somewhat corporate accent, the choice to close the show with this gallery of images was anything but haphazard. I don’t think many fans ponied up for a Petty concert looking for a message. Petty frequently received plaudits for appealing across the aesthetic and political spectrum of rock ’n’ roll fans. There’s something for just about everyone. That has more to do with the muscularity of the music and the elastic way his best songs easily stretch to fit most anyone’s life. But Petty did also subtly engage in politics during his career, especially in the later years. And he knew the power of rock ’n’ roll iconography, a lesson he learned the hard way. In essential aspects, the performance of “American Girl” at Petty’s last concert serves to repudiate and correct his largest, most embarrassing misstep: his use of the Confederate Battle Flag during the 1985 tour in support of his sixth album, Southern Accents. In 2017 the stage set celebrated a vision of racial harmony; in 1985 the set deployed an embattled icon that many see as our primary homegrown symbol of race-based hatred. And in much the same way that one of Petty’s final public gestures was in part a repudiation of the Confederate Flag, his career in the decades following Southern 5

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Accents was a decided rejection of the persona and aesthetics presented during his Southern Accents era. Southern Accents was released in March 1985. Over the previous nine years, Petty and the Heartbreakers had released a series of successful records. All of these albums are good rock records. Some are great. Despite consistently landing on the spectrum of good to great, Petty’s catalog at that point lacked any concerted, unified artistic statement, and Petty was at a crossroads, a moment of impending crisis. He is on record for saying as much. It was more than boredom, though. Petty had all kinds of money and all kinds of fame, but he wanted to challenge himself artistically. Early in his career, when people still confused him for a punk rocker, Petty said that rock music was just “stupid shit.” For Petty most contemporary rock musicians—including himself—wrote and rewrote versions of the same love songs over three chord progressions. Petty had grown tired of stupid shit. After 1982’s Long After Dark, Petty sought to challenge himself and his artistry, and he began working on a set of ideas which became a loose concept album about the American South. Southern Accents was intended as an artistic breakthrough. On paper the record sounds like a winner. With the aura of history promised by many of the songs, its sense of place, and an expanded palette of sounds and textures (including horns, sometimes baroque production, and a string arrangement by the legendary Jack Nitzsche), Southern Accents seems as if it could be the career defining record Petty intended. And this is even before you consider the groundbreaking Alice in Wonderland–inspired video for the record’s first single, “Don’t Come Around Here 6

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No More.” Although the album contains a few of Petty’s most accomplished songs, such as the emotionally raw title track, for reasons ranging from the aesthetic to the narcotic, Southern Accents didn’t stick the landing. Drugs, faddish 1980s’ production aesthetics, the mystifying inclusion of inferior songs, and a protracted recording process during which a frustrated Petty pulverized his hand melded together to create a record with a deep identity crisis. Southern Accents is an incoherent yet compelling mess. What makes this particularly baffling is that on YouTube or the retrospective boxset Playback you can now find many of the songs that were inexplicably left off the record. Many of these songs are better written, are produced with better quality, and, perhaps most importantly, are of a piece with the original thematic intent of the record. Listen to these, and you can Frankenstein into existence the milestone, barrier-breaking album that could’ve been. Which isn’t to say that the record-as-released doesn’t entrench itself in the mythos of the American South. It does, problematically so. The failure of Southern Accents is more than a lack of coherence and a crippling reliance on 1980s’ production gimmicks. I say this not because it doesn’t measure up to the rare few and almost objectively brilliant concept records in music history (like The Who’s Quadrophrenia). In fact, Southern Accents was always meant to be conceptually loose. Petty was not trying to create a fully formed Southern world in forty minutes. It was never his plan to build a kind of rock Yoknapatawpha County—the imagined Mississippi landscape where great Southern novelist William Faulkner 7

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set much of his work. He wasn’t striving for a “novel,” as he said in several interviews when confronted with negative assessments that the record wasn’t a robustly detailed narrative. In listening to Southern Accents and considering the remnants of Petty’s original idea, we find a record that is less a comprehensive story than a series of snapshots about life in the South. The songs comprising the thematic core of Southern Accents—“Rebels,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Southern Accents,” “Spike,” and “Dogs on the Run”— predominantly follows a single unnamed Southerner as he shambles through life embittered, drunk, antagonistic, but still hopeful and yearning for love and connection. So, yes, the record presents as Southern, from the opening song “Rebels” to the Civil War–era Winslow Homer painting on the cover. That’s not the problem. Things get dicey because the South of Petty’s imagination endorsed rather blindly some of the most corrosive myths of American culture and history. Petty adopted a staggeringly uncritical stance toward commonplace historical misunderstandings of the South, and his record manages to be both too much and too little about the South. The album is indebted to and deeply suffused with a long-standing, parochial, and miniaturized understanding of the American South. This is almost not Petty’s fault. It’s hard to nail down any region in a record, period, even for a consummate pop rock writer like Petty. And with all its historical burden, the South is nearly impossible to succinctly explore. Moreoever, by the time he made Southern Accents Petty was thirty-five and had already spent his adult life as a rock star, so he likely didn’t have the inclination to interrogate his vision of the South. But the result was that Southern Accents grows from and promotes 8

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an aggressively narrow conception of Southern identity. To put it bluntly, Petty’s South is the white South. After the record was released, Petty by turns claimed conceptual success and that he had said to hell with the notion of a concept record toward the end of the recording process. It’s hard to fully believe the latter claim, but even taking at face value Petty’s claims of retreat from his conceptual ambition, failing to complete an idea isn’t the same as abandoning it. As we will see, Petty surrendering a coherent theme had more to do with exhaustion than with any change of heart— and it didn’t do anything to make the record any better or the songs about the South any less flawed. Besides, for an album that wasn’t a concept record about the South, Petty sure promoted it like one. Even the cover art, to take just one example, clearly signaled the Southern concept. Southern Accents was the first album cover in the band’s career that did not feature Petty’s face. Instead, a yellowing parchment border frames Winslow Homer’s famous painting of a Union veteran reaping the harvest in a “new field.” Painted shortly after the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination, The Veteran in a New Field is an iconic image of grief and death, as well as hope for life and restoration. It’s also a confusing choice. Tommy Steele, the art director for the record, told me that neither he nor Petty knew that the painting featured a Union and not Confederate soldier, nor did they consider that the wheat the solider reaps symbolizes, in the critical vocabulary of Homer’s time and ours, the North. The South had cotton. The painting feels achingly rustic compared with much of the 1980s’ synth that marbles the album. Art history 9

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aside, it’s hard not to read the album cover as a reflection of the work inside.* The concept hadn’t been complete, but its completion was asserted in every aspect of the album’s release and promotion, except the actual music. After the album’s release, Petty ensnared himself in a second thicket of issues. Songs like “Rebels” and “Southern Accents” didn’t expand Petty’s appeal, but they surely deepened his connection to fans who identified strongly with certain parts of Southern culture. In a misguided move, Petty doubled down on his appeal to these folks by wrapping himself (at times, quite literally) in the iconography of the Confederacy during the tour. The Southern Accents tour book features the Confederate Battle Flag, and the flag was a prominent stage prop—in background images and lining Petty’s clothing. A live album recorded during the tour was titled Pack Up the Plantation: LIVE! Petty wasn’t comfortable with the tour’s reception. Certain factions in his audience assumed that Petty had outed himself as a Neo-Confederate. Audience members began showing up and waving the Battle Flag. Petty realized that his adoption of these Southern symbols was being taken differently than he had intended. While some may sanely *One could suggest that maybe it wasn’t Petty at all who wanted to promote Southern Accents as a concept album about the South, that the label had the deciding vote on things like album covers and press materials, but Tom Petty rarely relinquished control of such decisions, and he had a track record of it too. Just three years earlier Petty nearly derailed his career on behalf of his listeners when his label decided to use his 1982 album Hard Promises as a testing ground for an $9.98 price. Petty refused this dollar increase, going so far as to threaten to retitle his record Eight Ninety-Eight.

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wonder at the idea of Confederate iconography ever being neutral, Petty naively supposed it to be just that: a neutral design element of a rock show. Petty soon realized that if this was the cost of adopting a Southern image, then to hell with being Southern. He repudiated Southern iconography and stepped away from the trappings of his Southern birth, something that had been subtly threaded through his catalog until then. From the first record and up until Southern Accents, the tells were there. Yet, the tour’s reception and the record’s artistic shortcomings—along with some simmering creative dissatisfactions with the Heartbreakers—prompted Petty’s reevaluation and reimagining of both his music and his persona. By the time Petty’s next major record, Full Moon Fever, was written and recorded, he had reimagined himself as a free fallin’ Southern Californian. The Tom Petty of Full Moon Fever was a conscious creation born from the failure of and backlash against Southern Accents, at that time Petty’s last real attempt to make a bold artistic statement. Which gets us to the overarching argument of this book: although Full Moon Fever may be his most commercially succ­ essful record, Southern Accents, as well as its a­ ccompanying tour, is the most artistically pivotal moment of Petty’s career. Not because Southern Accents succeeded. Quite the contrary. Southern Accents is the most pivotal record of Petty’s career precisely because of the manifold ways in which it failed. The inclusion of songs that didn’t gel with Petty’s Southern idea distracted from the record’s impact. The record lacked unity and was overproduced in a way many 1980s’ records were. Any honest look at Southern Accents must consider 11

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the sonic fracture that comprises the record. Along the way Petty and the Heartbreakers made a series of decisions that further weakened the record’s prospects. As important, on the terms that Petty set for himself—art, not shit—the record was almost foreordained to be a failure. Given both who Petty was and the way he tried to execute the record, there was no way Southern Accents could satisfy his ambitions. Ultimately, the seeds of the record’s failure were planted as deep as Petty’s North Florida roots. Like many of us, he didn’t grasp the implications of his instincts or the origin of some of his ideas. As we move through this book we will discuss rock ’n’ roll, guitars, cocaine, songwriting, the recording process, broken hands, and all of those things you expect in a book about a rock record. But we will also talk about the South, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, race, and how in his moment of artistic reach Petty almost unwittingly tapped into deep veins of Southern myth which damned the record and, for a brief period, damned Petty himself. Which isn’t to say this book advances a definitive judgment against Petty. There are judgments—some about the music, some about the ethics. The primary thrust, though, is to show, with hopefully a light touch, just how deeply and unconsciously history, myth, circumstance, as well as Petty’s biases informed and structured Southern Accents. This goes for us, too: weirdo biases operate in the dank subterranean chambers of us all. Some people’s biases surpass the weirdo state, too, veering into the deeply dangerous. We inherit, restate, sometimes reinscribe these notions, and then represent these ideas to the world, unless we have something to help us rectify and assess our thinking. In our 12

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partial knowledge we both create and endure, both mold and are molded by, the culture that we live in. If we push hard enough on just about any part of our life, we plunge through the surface into a history that’s unknown to us even as it structures much of how we live. This is, obviously, just what history is and what historians do. Not claiming a new theory of knowledge here. We are just applying the notion a bit. Even people who get the theory don’t always see the application. Context is important. Since I proposed this book, the world has seen several developments that touch on its contents: the media’s attention on the white working class in the wake of Donald Trump’s election; Trump’s election itself, which occurred about a week before I signed the book contract; the violence in Charlottesville; a movement to remove Confederate monuments from public areas around the nation; Tom Petty’s unexpected death at the age of sixty-six. In February 2017, I began corresponding with a friendly woman named Mary Klauzer. Since 1978 Klauzer has worked alongside Tony Dimitriades, Petty’s manager. I had cold called East End management, and as soon as she answered I thought I’d torpedoed my chances. The song “Mary’s New Car” on Southern Accents was written about Klauzer, and when she told me her name I got a bit tongue tied. But she’s a gem and didn’t remark on my sudden onset inarticulation syndrome. It took a few days of back and forth, but the always relaxed Klauzer ultimately told me that Petty would be happy to meet with me to discuss the record. The timing would be difficult. Petty was being honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year. Soon thereafter he was heading into rehearsals for 13

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the fortieth anniversary tour. After that, he would be on tour. Klauzer told me to reach out to her after the tour concluded, ideally in early October, to arrange what she expected would be a meeting at Petty’s place. At 2:26 p.m. on Monday, October 2, 2017, I sent Klauzer a note to shore up details for the meeting. One hour later I wrote again. The second note expressed both sorrow and apology. Within a half an hour of my first email, news had broken of Petty’s cardiac arrest. Even before Petty’s untimely death, I told people that interviewing Petty wasn’t necessary for this project. It’s not that kind of book, I’d say. True. But it would be untrue if I said that Petty’s death didn’t have a tremendous impact on the book in your hand. Our conversation might have changed some of this. More important to me, though, would have been the chance to listen as he reflected on the role of the South in the making of this record, his career, and his life. I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live four times in my life. Anemic numbers, yes. I was fortunate enough to see the band twice on their final tour, in Nashville and Cincinnati. At both shows—and throughout the tour—he closed with “American Girl,” variations of the same visuals flickering behind the band, though not as realized as at the LA show. Earlier in the set, Petty and the band always played “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” the sole Southern Accents song performed on the tour. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is a slinky, seductive number. On the album it’s more gossamer than denim, though. Not so on this final tour. These performances felt fierce, nearly defiant. To my ears it felt like the song had matured into itself. The band relied less 14

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on synthesizers and digital effects and more on bass, drums, and guitars. Rock performance is like identity, both personal and national: it’s a living thing and it’s always changing. That’s a good thing. As noted historian of the South George Brown Tindall once wrote, “To change is not necessarily to lose one’s identity; to change sometimes is to find it.”1

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“The band has always been up and down,” Benmont Tench says of the Heartbreakers and Southern Accents. “It’s never been a band that does a consistently great record after great record. It’s a band that does a great record now and then, consistently, and always has really good songs cause he’s such a great songwriter. And it’s a good band. This one is one of the ones that got away. It’s one of the ones that got away.” It’s January 2018 and I’m sitting in Tench’s living room in his beautiful but modest-by-rock-star-standards, home, in Tarzana, a neighborhood in LA’s San Fernando Valley (named after former resident Edgar Rice Burroughs’s most famous creation, Tarzan). Tench sits in what seems to be an uncommonly comfortable armchair, his backyard with its pool and distracting view of the San Gabriel Mountains visible behind him. A few minutes before, Tench had answered the door with unexpected warmth. If you didn’t know you were talking to the man who played keys with Tom Petty since his preHeartbreakers band Mudcrutch, and on any number of other equally impressive artists’ records, you wouldn’t. There are no platinum records on display, at least as far as I can see.

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No photos of Tench kicking it with Bob Dylan. A Fender acoustic sitting in front of his large collection of LPs and a lush, walnut-colored grand piano just off the living room provide the only clues to his career. When Tench answered the door, “Dogs on the Run,” one of Southern Accents’ lesser known gems, played in the background. Tench was listening to the record for the first time in years. For the first part of our conversation, the record played softly in the background. Tench and I started talking about the track. His rapport is easy, calming, and he mentions how the band had worked up an acoustic arrangement of “Dogs” which perfected the song, but that they had only played it in rehearsal. “The Heartbreakers left so much beauty in rehearsal,” he says, wistfully, “and on unreleased tape. There’s just so much stuff that was so beautiful that I’m sure will never see the light of day. Maybe at some point.” Tench and I are meeting three months after Petty’s death. Mary Klauzer from Petty’s management office arranged the interview, which was to discuss the record, but it seemed both callous and disingenuous to ignore Petty’s death. So I asked Tench how he was doing. “Everybody is going okay. It’s taken awhile. Right now I’m just kind of devastated and pissed off. And frustrated,” he says. When Tench speaks he has a habit of pulling at the stubble on his chin. He also doesn’t stare at you when he speaks. Once the sentences start flowing, as they always do because Tench is thoughtful and has a lot to say, he’ll look away from you, occasionally checking in with direct, bracing eye contact. 18

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“We were playing really well. By the end of the tour we had found a new way to play together. It was subtle but we’d found a new way. And Tom was really excited. And that’s rough. I love playing, and I’ve done that since my entire adult life. My entire adult life I played with Tom and made this sound you get with Tom and Mike where Tom plays rhythm and I play a few things and Mike plays a few things. And the three of us make a noise together. Not putting us above or separate from anybody else, but by length of time. The three of us made this thing and to have this, like, oh, I can’t make that noise anymore. That’s really murderous.” I tell Tench that a lot of his catalog was the soundtrack to my life, which is true despite my ambivalence about the record I was there to discuss. The outpouring of love, the loss, and the shock that people felt at Petty’s death are a testament to the power of his music, to how much it meant to his listeners. “A few people have said that to me,” Tench replies. “And it’s wonderful, but the thing that nobody realizes is that it’s the soundtrack to my life, too. I just heard the songs before anybody else. And I’m just on the records. Tom would say, ‘I got a song but it’s on the piano, so can you play this part? This is what it is.’ And he plays me ‘Don’t Do Me Like That,’ like in 1974. Or what he played on ‘Southern Accents.’ Or he comes in with a song on guitar, and it’s holy moly.” Tench says “holy moly” more than most people. You get the feeling after the first few times you hear it that he cares more about the “holy” than the “moly,” and cares deeply; it’s a tic that reveals his appreciation of the magnitude or the grace he detects in whatever he’s talking about. 19

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“I just got to hear the songs before anybody else. Yeah, it’s the soundtrack to my life, too. So, they took the needle off that record which is craziness. That’s craziness.” Tench hosted me at what, for him, was surely another bit of craziness. A mere five weeks earlier his wife had given birth to their first child. While we chatted we were acutely aware of both a sleeping newborn and sleep-deprived mom down the hall. The preliminaries over and a bit of skin thrown into the game, Tench moved us to 1985 and Southern Accents, handling the album cover and talking through the credits and contributors: Richard Manuel, Jack Nitzsche, and Jimmy Iovine. “To me, the core of this record,” Tench says, laying the album cover down next to a coffee cup from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, “is a love for something. And it’s as much about growing up as it is about anything.” “Love” is another word Tench uses a lot. In the course of our conversation he used the word or its variations just shy of thirty times. “Maybe it’s a record about Gainesville, you know?,” Tench continues, tugging his chin and looking into the middle distance, as if this idea had just occurred to him for the first time. “That makes a lot of sense, if you think about it as a record that is about a place in the South.” Maybe. Maybe not. Tom Petty was born in the North Florida town of Gainesville on October 20, 1950, four years before the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education ruling overturned the longstanding “separate but equal” precedent established in 20

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1896. As a remedy experience for African Americans, things could have been better. Despite Brown’s injunction to desegregate, most Southern communities were, at best, slow to respond. Many Southerners’ responses took the form of violent race panic and aggression. In places like Little Rock the National Guard famously shielded black kids from gangs of sputtering, violent white adults. The cause of this rage? The kids were walking to their newly integrated school. Although Gainesville remained peaceful during the protracted desegregation process, the town took until 1964, a full decade after Brown, to dismantle distinctions between “black” and “white” high schools. Florida often gets an undeserved pass when it comes to the racist pathologies of the Deep South. Even Miami, which is often considered more Caribbean than American in sensibility, knew its geography. As late as the 1960s, that city maintained two entirely separate criminal justice systems. Florida joined the United States in 1845, when nearly 50 percent of the state’s population was enslaved. The state seceded from the Union early in the ramp up to the Civil War, on January 10, 1861. Gainesville had suffered from secessionist fever for nearly a decade by then. After the conclusion of the war, Florida was one of the first states to implement the racist Southern caste system known as “Jim Crow.” And North Florida? Let’s just say that North Florida trends toward Georgia. Parts of North Florida were Georgia at times, as it took forever to establish the state borders. That Petty was born in North-central Florida was, itself, a product of our country’s vigorous racial anxieties and animosities. 21

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William Petty, Tom Petty’s paternal grandfather, worked at a Georgia logging camp during the early twentieth century, pulping timber. While working at the camp, Pulphead, as he was known, met and crushed hard on one of the camp cooks, a “full-blooded Cherokee” by the name of Sally (the family isn’t certain of her name). They quickly married. Now, there surely were places as inhospitable to an interracial marriage as the Georgia of the early 1900s, but you’d really need to go on a quest to find someplace much worse. After their marriage, Pulphead and Sally became itinerant, roaming from camp to camp until scrutiny and accusations of miscegenation made them move on. The Pettys’ time in Georgia ended violently when Pulphead and Sally were detained on a rural road by a group of angry white men. Details are murky, but Pulphead reportedly killed one of the men so that he and Sally could safely escape. Pulphead and Sally crossed state lines, making a home in a barren settlement called Reddick, about an hour from Gainesville. Earl Petty, Tom’s father, was born in Reddick and raised alongside siblings in his parents’ small house. Earl inherited enough of his mother’s dark complexion that he felt stigmatized. The United States was built on two foundational sins: the enslavement of Africans and the evisceration and immiseration of indigenous Americans. Notions such as blood quantum—a way of determining how much Native American blood you contained and, therefore, how much of a citizen you were—are rampant throughout our history. If the trajectory of Sally and Pulphead Petty’s life was the result of anxiety and animosity, Earl Petty’s life was produced by adding to that anxiety the American alchemy of restlessness 22

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and opportunity. Desperate to take his shot at the American dream, and slough off what he felt as the baggage of Native American ancestry, Earl Petty left Reddick for Gainesville. In 1947, he married Kitty, Tom’s mother, and started having kids. Earl worked a series of jobs. He bought a panel truck and drove around selling dry goods. He sold insurance. For a while Earl was the sole grocer in Gainesville’s African American neighborhood. As Tom Petty told NPR’s Terry Gross, “I used to go down there when I was quite young, and I was just put out in the back. And so it was unusual to me that I’d play all day with black kids and then they’d bring me back to our, you know, little suburb that we lived in and it was all white kids, you know?”1 Tom Petty’s early life has been on public record for years. Biographies by Warren Zanes, Andrea M. Rotondo, and Nick Thomas tell similar stories; Petty told the tales himself, most notably in Paul Zollo’s Conversations with Tom Petty. And Peter Bogdanovich’s epic four-hour-long documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream also fills out much of Tom Petty’s early days. This is, of course, leaving to the side all of the interviews Petty gave over the years. All of these sources—which this book is indebted to for both information and inspiration—play the same notes. There was Petty’s distant, hard-drinking, and abusive father, Tom’s early formative experience of seeing Elvis on the set of the movie Follow That Dream followed soon by his Beatlesinspired rapture. Throughout this Petty worked a series of dead-end jobs—mowing grass, working in a music store, digging graves—before committing himself to music. We don’t need to retell those tales, other than to emphasize what 23

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is so obvious that it often goes unacknowledged: that at the very least, where and when we are born are the first bits of luck, good or bad, we have to work with. Throughout its history, Petty’s hometown vibrated between frequencies, as did much of the South in the 1960s. Gainesville in the 1960s in many ways dramatized the tensions of the twentieth-century South, and not only because the town delayed school segregation for a decade. Gainesville is home to the University of Florida, which for the most part makes it a permissive, progressive enclave in overwhelmingly conservative North Florida. But neither the university nor the town has been categorically enlightened on social positions. In 1904 the United Daughters of the Confederacy unveiled Old Joe, a monument in honor of the town’s Confederate dead, in front of the Alachua County Administration Building in Gainesville, where he stood until 2017. In 1910 the school dismissed a faculty member for arguing that Abraham Lincoln’s career as a statesman eclipsed that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. And for a brief period in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the University’s official flag was a direct derivation of the Confederate Flag. This small collection of publicly recorded items is part of a much larger mosaic of life in Gainesville. Other stuff is on the record, too. And then there are the realities of life in segregated societies, the indignities of which are often left unrecorded. Tench remembers growing up within Gainesville’s segregation regime. “When I grew up the water fountains said colored and white,” he told me. “And the waiting rooms when I got my glasses when I was seventeen years old were 24

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colored and white. But the hippie movement came in really, really strong in Gainesville. And people that were just fed up went what the hell are you talking about? I was too young to be politically active, but I never remember Gainesville . . . .” Tench says, trailing off, catching himself. “Now, if you were black and growing up in Gainesville in the 50s, hell yes. And in the 60s because the Civil Rights Act didn’t just wipe everything clean.” “We grew up in Gainesville,” says Tench, moving in his mind from childhood to early adulthood, “and Florida’s the South. But Gainesville’s the progressive South.” Which, true. As the twentieth century unspooled, institutions such as the University of Florida became engines of opportunity, education, cosmopolitanism, and rock ’n’ roll, even when, as Petty told biographer Warren Zanes, “you went a few miles down the road you were back in redneck land where the same rules didn’t apply.”2 Gainesville proved fertile for the band, a land where rednecks and hippies mingled and jammed. Stephen Stills, The Eagles’ Don Felder, and the Allman Brothers Band were fixtures on the scene. After Petty, Campbell, and Tench came together, they ultimately worked to create music unallied with what people typically think of as Southern rock. Let’s take a minute to refine something said in the Introduction. Part of my argument is that Petty played up his Southernness during the recording and promotion of Southern Accents, after which he reframed himself as deep California. Though this seems to be undeniably true to me, it opens up an obvious question. Were the Heartbreakers of the 1970s and early 1980s a Southern band, or an LA band? 25

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Until Full Moon Fever, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ music was always more of the South than of Los Angeles. This is surely a contentious assertion, as most folks would classify Petty and his crew as an LA band. Petty himself changed his mind about whether the Heartbreakers were one or the other. In Conversation with Tom Petty, for instance, he tells Paul Zollo, “We’ve been in LA for over thirty years. We’re a Los Angeles band.”3 I think Petty’s silly, at least in that interview with Zollo, speaking too literally about geography. Instead, I tend to agree with his comments to Creem magazine in 1985: “I’m glad we’ve had a chance to make people understand that we are Southern,” Petty said, talking about Southern Accents.4 Although California-based since 1974, the Heartbreakers frequently embroidered its work with invocations of the South. Many of Petty’s tunes project what we think of when we think lazily about the South—scrappy, angry, passionate, and committed, despite the sometimes questionable ethics of those commitments. “Magnolia,” included on You’re Gonna Get It, the band’s second record, and “Louisiana Rain” from Damn the Torpedoes, their third record, foreground the region (the phrase “damn the torpedoes” is often attributed to a Union naval officer during the Civil War). Other regional invocations were subtler. The 441 of “American Girl,” where the cars roll by “like waves crashin’ on the beach,” is a highway in Gainesville. “Nightwatchman” from 1981’s Hard Promises and “One Story Town” from Long After Dark also seemed to telegraph some of Petty’s Southern Accents preoccupations. The former song is a character sketch of a working-class dreamer; the latter is a banal, if effective, way of nailing down and vivisecting the boredom and frustration of small 26

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town life and soured love. With its usually overlooked racist menace, “Strangered in the Night” is challengingly, if not downright embarrassingly, a song by a white guy from the South singing about clichéd racial hostilities. Google the lyrics for a bit of shock. More than lyrics, though, the Heartbreakers sounded Southern on their first records. For a band often compared with the British invasion and West Coast outfits like the Byrds, there’s an undeniable swagger to the Heartbreakers, something often missing from the nascent jam band indulgences of “Southern Rock.” As much as they sounded Southern, they obviously sounded distinct. “We loved the Allman Brothers but we weren’t part of that scene, and deliberately because that wasn’t our thing,” Tench told me. The Heartbreakers are “not a southern rock band, in terms of what that defines as a genre. The southernness in the Heartbreakers comes from our love of rhythm and blues, of soul music, from the fact that when we’d play gig, when Mudcrutch would play gigs, you knew half of Wilson Pickett’s greatest hits by heart. You knew Sam and Dave by heart. You know, all of the great soul music. You knew all of this stuff. You knew Carla Thomas, all this stuff. It was bred into you. So that’s the kind of southern thing that we had.” To list just a few songs, “Breakdown,” “Hometown Blues,” and “You’re Gonna Get It” all swing. Even seemingly unlikely songs like the synthesizer-laden “You Got Lucky” and the straightforward “Listen to Her Heart” show more Southern soul than all of Molly Hatchet’s songs combined. Also, I mean, have you heard Tom Petty sing? Dude’s a swamp rat. 27

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Petty and other Heartbreakers shared the sentiment that their band was descended from the South but hadn’t been snared by “Southern Rock.” “There’s a lot of soul in the south,” according to Mike Campbell. “Maybe you got some of that if you’re lucky.” And Petty himself went so far as to question the notion of “Southern rock,” saying “I always kind of wondered what ‘Southern rock’ is. I mean, I guess what, maybe 90 percent of the rock ’n’ roll in the ‘50s came from the South.” In the same interview, Petty mentioned the 1960s’ soul explosion, Stax records, and the Memphis sound. “In a more general sense,” he said, “blues and jazz came out of the South.”5 “I spent more than 20 years down there. The music was formed there. I like it mainly ‘cause there is so much music down there, from the old hillbilly stuff to the Stax stuff from Memphis.”6 The Heartbreakers metabolized this music, all of it. To stick with one of the songs we’ve already discussed, despite its shimmering twelve-string invocation of The Byrds, “American Girl’s” opening guitar riff owes its existence to the syncopated duh du-duh du-duh DUH DUH of the Bo Diddley beat, itself an Americanization of a West and Central African rhythm. The Heartbreakers draw as much on Bo Diddley as the Byrds, regardless of how much fans, and Byrds like Roger McGuinn, claim the Heartbreakers as offspring. So in some ways, Petty was more Southern than prototypical Southern bands like Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. If you consider music as a cultural and racial fusion, Petty’s early work tends to be more emblematic of the contemporary South. At its best, the history of the region makes cultural, 28

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social, and racial dialogue and understanding a part of everyday life. Yet, by the time they recorded Long After Dark, the Heartbreakers had largely evolved away from these roots. This aspect of the band’s heritage should’ve moved into the forefront with Southern Accents. Instead, Petty seemed to forget his debt to the multiracial culture of the region when he went full-South for Southern Accents. Southern Accents’ general inspiration sprang from two rock star tropes: artistic boredom and tour bus window gazing. From Petty’s perspective, 1982’s Long After Dark hadn’t broken any new ground. Going into those sessions, Petty wanted to move in a subtler direction. He hoped to craft songs focused on and influenced by the dynamics of the acoustic guitar, a rarely exploited instrument in the Heartbreakers catalog. Jimmy Iovine, Petty’s producer since 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, disagreed, ultimately winning the debate. The result was arguably the most straightforward, guitar-driven record of the band’s career, up that point. Long After Dark contained the hits “You Got Lucky,” the enduring fan favorite “Straight into Darkness,” and a few other excellent songs. For Petty, however, the set was a commercial disappointment and an artistic underachievement. “I was at the point in my career where I was very much trying to find some new ground,” he once said.7 “I had thought I had used up what I had started with and I wanted a new direction.” I dig Long After Dark. I’ve listened to that album in its entirety more than just about any other Petty record, including the obviously superior Hard Promises, which 29

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precedes Dark in the discography. I find a coherence to Long After Dark that makes the record easy to forget about as it plays in the background. Unless you focus, Long After Dark can sound like one long song. Like Petty’s version of Jethro Tull’s one-song record Thick as a Brick. “You Got Lucky” will never be confused with “One Story Town” if you remain attentive. But if your attention slips, forty minutes have gone by. I know that sounds like faint praise, or the opposite of praise. Maybe it is. The point is that for a rock record, Long After Dark goes down easy. The aesthetic coherence of the record is a summary of what the Heartbreakers had been trying to do up until that point. They’d perfected their thing, even if in the process they moved away from what made their earlier music so good. This same coherence is a weakness. The record sounds tighter than the band’s previous work. Not as in “you gotta admit the band’s pretty tight,” but as in “this record sounds quite rigid in the hips.” A lot of bands pay more attention to the first part of the phrase rock ’n’ roll. That’s fine. But the Heartbreakers had always been one of those bands that rolled with some soul. After completing Long After Dark, the band embarked on another grueling stint on the road. As the Long After Dark tour traveled from Texas to Kentucky in late January to mid-February of 1983, Petty watched the South roll by, “seeing places, people, and images that triggered thoughts of his southern upbringing.”8 Petty was ripe for contemplating his region and himself. By 1983 the Heartbreakers had been locked in a record-tour-record-tour cycle for the better part of seven years. The band was rode hard, exhausted. Petty shared the band’s exhaustion, but his fatigue stemmed from 30

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more than just the grind of the road life. “I was bored with what I was doing,” Petty told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. “I love to play, so I was never bored on stage. But the rest of it was boring. I knew I could hold my own, but I was more ambitious about writing and recording.”9 More than just his own restlessness, he felt that his fans were expecting greater things than just “a record of pop songs.”10 Anybody can gaze out of the window of any car rolling down any road in the world and start to feel poetic and roadwise. Poetic yearning for freedom and self-understanding is the road’s allure. Americans—the ones worth knowing, at least— all have this Born to Run gene. The South’s allure for this kind of thinking is overdetermined. In the national imagination the region is shrouded in what the late Yankee historian Howard Zinn termed the “southern mystique.”11 You know: swamps, humidity, magnolias, moonlight. The mystique is a national belief, but it’s also part of Southerners’ self-understanding. Southerners seem doubly cursed. In addition to the American impulse to road trip, there’s a long history of Southerners trying to make sense of their home region and disenthrall themselves from the mystique. It can be more than a little baffling, Southern history and a thoughtful Southerner’s place in it, and long is the list of those who have grappled with it. White writers such as W. J. Cash, C. Vann Woodward, Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell, and Tennessee Williams explored and exposed elements of the mystique. Often they just end up kicking up sand, making things murkier. Which I only mention as a cautionary note. You work with what you’ve got, and Petty had the South as a platform for his ambition. 31

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“So this record,” Tench says of Southern Accents, “I believe, he’d taken a notebook and jotted down one word impressions about the South. Rebels. Apartment. Trailer. Accent. These kinds of things, one or two word impressions about the South and built from that, which is beautiful and brilliant.” Petty often told the single-word Southern impression story during interviews, including with Paul Zollo, where he said that by the end of the 1983 tour he “had a kind of sketch of what I wanted to do.”12 In addition to trailer and apartment, Petty’s list of words also included “sheets,” as in the Klu Klux Klan. According to Petty, “Sheets” was “really scary,”13 addressing as it did the South’s preposterously violent and shameful history of racism. “Sheets” seems to be gone with the wind. Nobody I spoke to during research for this book knew if the track had ever been recorded. “Sheets” aside though, Petty’s list of words maps out some of the banal reality of the Southern mystique. Southern Accents came into focus as a series of rock vignettes, if you will, tracing the daily life of a down on his luck, nameless Southerner. Petty never named a protagonist—or directly set forth the idea of a narrator—so one could be forgiven for thinking that Southern Accents was autobiographical, something we’ll get to later. Southern Accents has another origin, too. Around the same time as Petty was sketching out his list of words, Robbie Robertson asked Petty to contribute a song to a movie soundtrack, 1983’s King of Comedy. Petty offered “The Best of Everything,” a holdover from the band’s Hard Promises sessions. Robertson took the unfinished track and conducted major surgery, so much so that he barred 32

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Petty from the studio while he was working on it. The final product was a verse shorter than the track Petty recorded and featured a vocal performance by Robertson’s former The Band colleague, Richard Manuel, as well as some very Bandy horns. The addition of a horn section influenced the remainder of Southern Accents, which features a horn section, performing what Petty called “Civil War horns,” on key tracks like the opening song, “Rebels.” Finally, Southern Accents’ origin lies within Petty himself, the kid from Gainesville. “It’s hard to beat [the South] all out of someone,” Petty said after the release of Southern Accents. “When I’m down there, in a minute I feel real comfortable and at home. It’s a romantic place; any place with a culture that strong is pretty interesting.”14 If you haven’t heard “Moonpie” do us both a favor. Put down the book, access YouTube, and listen to the clip. “Moonpie” feels like it must be from the Southern Accents sessions, but it isn’t. An outtake from the following record, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), “Moonpie” was released on the 1995 box set, Playback. “Moonpie” is about sixty seconds of delicious nonsense. The band improvises a sloping/rolling/rollicking bit of country and Western swing, with Tench offering up particularly powerful playing before Petty comes in: Well who you callin’ moonpie, my real name is Richard I live in a little town you’ve probably never been to before Petty’s vocals are an exaggeration, a parody of a slowthinking Southern rube. It’s a joke. At the end of the track, the band collapses about itself in laughter. But guitarist Mike 33

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Campbell thinks there’s an element of the “Moonpie” joke that reflects Petty the man. “Well, that’s Tom. That’s his southern guy. That’s part of him. If you listen to Tom’s radio show, you’ll hear him,” Campbell says, adopting an exaggerated drawl, “I think it just was in him and it kind of came out in lots of songs. There’s a part of us, and especially Tom, a drawl, a way of thinking, in a good way, from the South, the southern gentleman sweet part of the South. And the accent and the phrasing, and some of the thought process, too, is Deep South. That’s where we grew up. That life and that geography was, you know, embedded in us from childhood. So it’s gotta be in there, you know.” If I had a better arm, I would say that Mike Campbell lives a stone’s throw from Tench. Campbell’s house is in Woodland Hills, a neighborhood adjoining Tarzana. The impact of cowriting credits shows itself in the differences between Tench’s and Campbell’s houses. Campbell lives in a compound behind a large wood gate with a speaker system, at the top of a hill dense with foliage. As you crest the hill you’ll see several luxury SUVs and what I think were concrete elephants—not full size. When I met him, Campbell greeted me in the driveway wearing jeans, a loose white and blue shirt, and what looked like Indiana Jones’s hat. Campbell laughingly said he hadn’t prepared, his kind eyes sparkling, and then escorted me into his house. Throughout our talk Campbell was lovely and forthcoming in his responses. But he doesn’t talk as much as Tench. Like most fans, I’ve always viewed Campbell as Tom Petty’s closest friend in the band and his lieutenant, an omni-capable second-in-command. 34

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For this reason, I think, Campbell was careful not to put words in Petty’s mouth. He often said variations on, “Well, you’d have to ask Tom that, but you can’t now.” For most of our chat, Campbell sits on a couch in his “annex,” a studio he built off of his home. Since the 1990s some of every Heartbreakers record has been recorded in this studio. Throughout our conversation Campbell cradles a late 1970s’, wine red Gibson Les Paul Custom, constantly noodling, often playing the songs he mentions as he discusses them. No lie, it’s a total trip watching Mike Campbell search for the name of a song (“The Waiting”) and then begin playing that song (again, “The Waiting”) as a way of jogging his memory. Alongside decor that could’ve been from a high schooler’s bedroom—grimy couch, Hendrix and Dead posters on the wall, tie-dye cloth pinned to the walls—are the tools of the hyper-successful musician. The small recording console used to record Petty’s Full Moon Fever (that record, as Campbell tells me, was recorded not in the annex, but in his kitchen), a much larger console, several guitars, and an upright bass. Managing to be both nonchalant and screamingly conspicuous, Campbell’s 1950s’ Fender Broadcaster, the guitar he used on much of the first record and that he toured with for decades, leans in a corner, perched on a mess of cables. Toward the end of our interview Campbell showed me the kitchen where the bulk of Full Moon Fever was recorded. To get there we walked through a guitar corridor. Dozens of guitars sat in two long racks. Campbell pointed out a gold top Les Paul and said, “That’s ‘Strangered in the Night.’” He then pulled a twelve-string Rickenbacker out of the rack— 35

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the twelve-string Rickenbacker, the one Petty cradles on the cover of Damn the Torpedoes. That was something. Campbell’s looseness, his comfort with the instruments prompted me to ask a question I’d been holding back about the Fender that had been sitting next to us throughout the interview. “Is that, in there,” I muttered, pointing to the guitar. “Yeah, that’s the one,” Campbell said as he walked over and scooped the Broadcaster off of the pile of cables. The guitar is filthy. Not once since 1976 has Campbell cleaned it, fearing any change might damage the instrument’s sound. “It’s probably worth about $150,000, even if it wasn’t mine,” he said. Campbell casually mentioned that this was the guitar that he used for recording such classic Heartbreakers songs as “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” and many others. As he named each song, he played fragments of them. So, I play some guitar, but I had never been around a famous guitar. What was so strange standing next to Campbell as he banged out these classics was just how obvious it was that it was that very Broadcaster that had played the opening, shimmering chords in “American Girl.” “We did most of [Southern Accents] at his house,” Campbell tells me, running through shimmery Mike Campbell licks on the Les Paul. “He had ‘The Waiting.’ Is that the one? ‘Rebels.’ He had ‘Rebels’ and maybe two other songs. And we mostly started working on ‘Rebels,’ and we had a hell of a time recording that, I remember. And then as the record went on, Dave Stewart was in town. He came in and commandeered a couple of the songs. And so the album started off being a southern accents album and kind of went into Dave Stewart 36

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world, and then it kind of came back. So it’s a mix of those two things.” Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Campbell. In about 115 words there, Campbell puts forward an elevator pitch for the tragicomedy that could be written about the Southern Accents sessions.

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Who Did You Expect to Meet?

According to Petty biographer Nick Thomas, the Southern Accents sessions lasted eighteen months, a long time for the Heartbreakers. Damn the Torpedoes was recorded and released more quickly, including the time Petty spent battling his record company and declaring bankruptcy in order to void his contract. The band tracked Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) in about five weeks. Full Moon Fever and the first Traveling Wilburys records took roughly a year from conception to release, the same year. Beyond the number of days spent on the record, the number of hours in each day devoted to the record dwarfed the band’s other efforts. The Heartbreakers locked themselves into chaos when they opted to record at Gone Gator, the studio Petty built in his Encino home. What’s the point of being a rock star if you have to go to an office—any office? Working from home sounds cozy, logically correct. It should sound intuitively exhausting. When you work from home on a record, you basically live with your coworkers. “Except for ‘Best of Everything’ and ‘Spike,’ I think we did everything else at his home studio,” Tench says. “And that has its problems. You can never get away from work. And

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Tom told me, the thing is the band never leaves. You can’t get away. You know, if you go up to your kitchen, the band’s there getting a cup of coffee or talking to your family, or something, it’s like, AHHHHHH, you can’t get away. Crazy.” Petty and Campbell chose to produce Southern Accents themselves, a first. Also a mistake. Bands often get stuck in the mud when they produce their own records. A good producer dispassionately assesses the music. Artists can mistake enthusiasm for quality, letting ideas or songs slip through that should have been left on the floor. Or bands can spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over small details. “I think we got off track,” Tench says of the sessions. “When we have a producer,” he says slipping into present tense, as he and Campbell did repeatedly when talking about working with Petty, “I think we are better off. I think Tom and Mike do a great job producing, but I always think that if you have a producer that isn’t playing anything and didn’t write anything and walks into the room” the band made progress more easily. Until Southern Accents, the Heartbreakers had relied on the production skills of the legendary Denny Cordell and the legend-in-the-making Jimmy Iovine. Cordell previously produced Procul Harem, Joe Cocker, The Moody Blues, and others. He had worked on the first two Heartbreakers records after poaching the band from a nascent deal with London Records and signing what was then Mudcrutch to his own Shelter label. After You’re Gonna Get It! the band began collaborating with Jimmy Iovine. Although he’s now one of the biggest names in entertainment, when Iovine joined forces with Petty to 40

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produce Damn the Torpedoes, his biggest credit to date had been engineering Springsteen’s Born to Run. After Torpedoes, Iovine would produce records for the Heartbreakers up until Southern Accents. Cordell and Iovine employ different methods, both to great success. You can hear these in the hits that speckle the Heartbreakers’ first five albums. Cordell promotes spontaneity, early takes, and few overdubs. Iovine chased the perfect take. According to Warren Zanes, during the Damn the Torpedos sessions, Iovine had the Heartbreakers cut “Refugee” around seventy times. And this doesn’t factor in work done on the song after the basic tracks were recorded. “Refugee” still sounds incredible. But, so does “American Girl,” which Cordell produced for the Heartbreakers’ debut. Southern Accents’ lack of a producer wasn’t the only thing impeding progress. From all accounts, the sessions were an inescapable maelstrom of ambition, substance abuse, and poor judgment. With nobody to play dad, Gone Gator became a standing party as much as a studio. The Heartbreakers weren’t angels, of course, but for the most part they hadn’t bought into the full-blown rock star lifestyle. Following the Long After Dark tour, as they settled into their first spell of non-road life in years, the band started partying a bit hard. During the sessions for Southern Accents their appetites only increased. “When I hear that one,” Petty told Warren Zanes, referring to Southern Accents, “I can taste cocaine in the back of my mouth.”1 The Heartbreakers were never known for their excessive rock star indulgences. Nobody in the band, at least that I’ve 41

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discovered, drove a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, a la Keith Moon. Nobody kept underage girlfriends on their bus or plane. No hotel rooms even ever fell victim to a Heartbreaker’s postshow tantrum, a la Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, The Who, etc, etc, et al. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t moments of dutiful debauchery. During the Southern Accents sessions, there was a lot of cocaine. This isn’t a scientific survey, but it seems that an eight ball was the price of admission to many of these sessions. Even if everyone had not been on cocaine, some tracks—most notably “Make It Better” and “It Ain’t Nothing to Me”—still seem indebted to or inspired by the drug. Not that this was a rare occurrence in 1985. I don’t want to speculate by name, but in an idle moment take a look at the Wikipedia pages for music in 1984 and 1985. It’s impossible to think that many of those mid-1980s master tapes aren’t still dusted in white powder. In much of the press surrounding both Southern Accents and the following record, Let Me Up, there’s a lot of evasive diplomacy about drug use. “Let’s just say I was living a strange lifestyle: up at night, sleeping in the day,” Petty told a reporter, with the tact the band tended to use when skirting their mid-1980s’ cocaine enthusiasm.2 Decades after the fact, the band speaks more freely about those days. “I wish that we’d stuck with [the concept] for the record because I think that this record could’ve been conceptually as sound as Wildflowers, but we . . . .” Tench says, trailing off. “We got sidetracked. By cocaine.” The atmosphere at Gone Gator grew tense as the sessions dragged on. Petty became deeply frustrated with the quality of the work, frustrations exacerbated by both the drugs and the slow rate of progress. 42

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“I want to say something else, I want to do something else,” Tench said, repeating Petty’s ambitions at the time, “I don’t want to do just a collection of songs and I want to do a record about the South.” And, Tench points out, “He did a record about the south, [but] he got sidetracked. There was a lot of cocaine. And I think a lot of cocaine had something to do with it.” Tench is on the record as almost killing himself with drugs and alcohol in the 1980s. He’s forthright and honest. It seems to have been almost obligatory to go crazy over cocaine during the decade, but Tench brings it up often, sometimes in funny ways, as in this exchange, which grew out of a discussion about his ultimate dissatisfaction with Southern Accents: Tench: (holding the Southern Accents LP cover, gesturing at the back photo of the band sitting on hay bales in a barn): The other thing that drives me crazy about this record is personal which is I didn’t have a mullet. But the way, my hair actually ended right there, but no, it’s my collar the way my collar is going up and it looks like I have a fucking mullet (For the record, yes: it looks like Tench has a mullet). What I had was so much cocaine in my system. My hair was like this. That is obviously not a mullet. But I had so much cocaine in my system at all times that my hair was just frizzier than hell. Cocaine’s not good for your hair. Me: I’ve never heard that. Tench: Well it’s true. Trust me. You don’t want that. 43

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As their first task, Petty and the Heartbreakers set to work on “Rebels,” the first song expressly written for the record. Southern Accents’ opening song, “Rebels,” an aggressive mid-tempo number that manages to rock despite its overly mannered production, is a shot across the bow, it’s Petty’s firing on Fort Sumter. “Rebels” introduces the nameless, embittered, boozer who should have been, for lack of a better word, the protagonist at the core of Petty’s concept. With its condemnation of “blue bellied devils” and its unreconstructed affirmation of Southern Rebeldom, the song provides a bold gambit for the record. The band spent a demoralizing amount of time and work to get “Rebels” to sound like Petty desired. Or to even get a take that rivaled the vitality of the song’s original demo. Most musicians cut demos—a rough recording of a song—so that the band can work from something rather than nothing. Their purpose being only as a prompt, demos are typically (ideally) surpassed by final recordings. Not so with “Rebels.” Despite repeated attempts to record and mix the song into something Petty could be proud of, the track remained elusive. No matter how many times the band performed the song, they failed to match the power of Petty’s demo. American Treasure, the collection of unreleased recordings, alternate takes, and live performances released in September 2018, contains a different performance of “Rebels.” The performance feels a bit like an inferior cover band playing the song. There are several differences with version of the song released in 2018, but changes in the drums exert the most influence. During the verses on the Southern Accents performance of the song, the snare drum fires on the fourth 44

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beat of the measure, effectively giving the verses a tentative half-time feel. On the 2018 American Treasure performance, drummer Stan Lynch hits the snare on the two and four, a more standard way of playing the song. The newly released version feels less tense, less urgent, and has less style. According to a prerelease draft of the liner notes supplied to me by Petty’s record company, mixer Ryan Ulyate says, “Although there are dozens of different approaches to this track in the vault, the one thing they all have in common is Tom’s great vocal performance, which was from his demo*.”3 “What made ‘Rebels’ so difficult,” Petty claims in the same liner notes, “was that it had to open the album, and I must’ve worked on that song a year, changing the arrangement— another horn arrangement, another guitar arrangement, six or seven different bass lines. It had to open [the album] and it had to be right.”4 “Rebels was really hard,” Campbell tells me. “This just might be technical, but ‘Rebels,’ he had a twelve string, which is kind of, twelve strings are harmonic and they have a lot of over ring. And he had a chorus. I don’t know if you know what a chorus is. Kind of a swirling box on it. So it made it, not quite out of tune, but a little swirly and, I don’t know what the word is, wobbly sounding, in a good way. But, in addition to that, the tape recorder we were using, which Memories are hazy on this subject. Despite the American Dream’s claim that all takes of “Rebels” incorporated the demo’s vocal line, Petty told Paul Zollo that the recording of the vocal line was the problem with the song. That if he’d had the studio craft he would have just recorded the final version of the song around the vocal performance he cut for the demo. *

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we didn’t know at the time, was having problems with the speed.” The band would cut the song, and when they would return to it, “it’d be a little bit off pitch.” “And we’d try to tune other instruments to it,” Campbell continues, “and we can’t tune to that twelve string. It must be the chorus. And we did a couple of songs before we realized, it’s the machine! The machine is not running the right speed, it’s changing on us. And we had to have a tech come in and try to fix it. I don’t know if they ever did. But that drove us batty. Cause we had this feel we wanted, and we didn’t want to cut it again cause that was the vibe, but nothing would tune with it. And the piano wouldn’t tune with it. Nothing would tune with it. We finally got it, I guess, sort of in tune. But it drove us nuts.” Now, it was 2018 and we were discussing a record from 1985, so a bit of Rashomon slippage between the Heartbreakers’ memories is to be expected. Still, Tench’s memory of “Rebels” amplifies Campbell’s understanding. “The chorus effect,” Tench tells me, “especially if you were on cocaine, you thought the guitars were out of tune. You’d spend a whole night trying to figure out how to get the guitar in tune. You’d spend the whole day figuring out why does the piano sound out of tune to this. When it didn’t matter. You’d get lost in the details of this thing and that thing. So it’s pretty easy to lose the plot.” “We knew it was a great song,” Tench says summarizing the riddle of recording and the problems of playing “Rebels.” “We couldn’t find our way in.” It was during a marathon session for “Rebels” that Petty pulverized his hand. Petty’s hand-breaking holds a prominent 46

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place in Heartbreakers lore. Late one night after working on the song, Petty slammed his left hand into a wall, powdering the bone. His injury required extensive reconstructive surgery. Some of his doctors assumed Petty would be unable to play guitar after his recovery. It’s likely that the catalyst for Petty beating his hand up had as much to do with the former Eagle Don Henley as it did with “Rebels.” Or just the cocaine. To get there from here, though, we need to take a detour through Petty and the Heartbreakers’ typical song writing process. According to both Tench and Campbell, Petty usually brought ideas for songs to the band, usually quite fully realized. Campbell often received cowriting credit on Heartbreakers’ recording, but he and Petty never sat down and wrote a song together. “You know, we didn’t,” Campbell says when asked about writing with Petty. “That still is nothing I’m that comfortable with, sitting eyeball to eyeball with somebody and trying to pull something out of the air. It is kind of a naked feeling. And it is easier to do it when you’re alone. And if you sound like shit, nobody hears it.” Instead, and particularly after the band’s success, Campbell would compose elaborate instrumental demos and bring to Petty. “There’s a series of records called Drum Drops,” Tench tells me. “They were drums and they were different grooves, but they were structured like a song. So there’d be an intro for the length that an intro would be, there’d be a verse and a chorus, or a double verse and a chorus, another verse and a chorus, a pattern would change to what a bridge would be, and then a pattern for a solo. It’d be the whole structure. And 47

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Mike would write these incredible songs, just this stuff, and play all of the instruments, play guitar and bass and stuff, and give these tracks to Tom and Tom would write them. That’s how they wrote ‘Refugee.’ But there was kind of a Latin feel to ‘Refugee’ when they brought in the tape of that, and me and Stan listened to it and went, Oh really?” The guys revised “Refugee’s” groove. During the Southern Accents sessions Campbell brought in a demo of what would become Henley’s hit “The Boys of Summer.” “I had the track with a different chorus,” Campbell says. “I had basically the record, but when it went to the chorus I had this weird minor chord. Jimmy was there, Jimmy Iovine, and Tom, and I played it for them, they were going, yes, that’s cool. And it got to the chorus and Jimmy goes, that’s kind of jazzy. And I go, yeah, I think you’re right. And Tom just kind of lost interest. And then later on, Jimmy called and said that Don was looking for some stuff. I thought, well, I think before I send it over to him, maybe I’ll change the chorus and I’ll put a major key chorus. So Tom, in his defense, didn’t hear that version. He heard a jazzier version.” Soon after Campbell sent him the song, Henley penned lyrics and rushed the song into the world. “The Boys of Summer” was a massive hit (and perhaps a lost opportunity for the Heartbreakers), which Campbell speculates might’ve been just the spark needed to ignite Petty’s frustrations. “The Boys of Summer” sounded so good and “Rebels” was so difficult and unsatisfying. “The hand breaking incident. I was there,” says Campbell. “I never really talked to Tom about it. I know we were at the 48

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session. I had a [pre-release] mix [of ‘The Boys of Summer’] on cassette, and I brought it in at the beginning of the [‘Rebels’] session. What do you guys think of this? And Tom listened to it and he didn’t say a word. He got up and left the room. Next thing I know he’s broken his hand. I don’t know if he was annoyed or pissed. Or whatever.” “I don’t know if it had anything to do with breaking the hand. Maybe it did. Knowing Tom it probably did. Cause we’re like brothers, you know, always competing. But we never talked about it. I can’t confirm that. Of course, now I can’t ever confirm it.” According to Campbell, Petty broke his hand about threequarters of the way through the record. “I don’t remember that stopping us,” Campbell says. “It was mostly just being distracted and inebriated, you know, and not focused. I don’t remember the hand breaking being a problem. That must have been near the end. I think most of the tracks were probably already cut by then. He just may have had some singing to do.” Regardless, in later years Petty claimed that his injury ultimately helped the record. “It made a much better record,” Petty said. “Because, after I got out of the hospital, I could hear very clearly things that I’d overlooked.”5 What Petty saw clearly was that he was mired in a project he didn’t have the stamina or enthusiasm to complete. At that point Southern Accents was a sprawling double album, and despite Petty’s consistent efforts, the record was getting no closer to done. Around the same time, two things happened: Petty called in Jimmy Iovine to help and Petty fell under the sway of another influence. 49

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“Don’t Come Around Here No More” blossomed from an unexpected, rather improvised session, the product of accident and contingency. During the Southern Accents sessions, Jimmy Iovine asked Petty if he had any songs that might be a fit for a Stevie Nicks record Iovine was producing. In 1981 Nicks, who often proclaimed that if she had been asked she would’ve gladly left Fleetwood Mac and joined the Heartbreakers, had scored a hit with “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” a Petty-composed song that the two rock stars performed as a duet. “Stop Dragging” had been cut for the Hard Promises record, but Petty decided to leave that song off, offering to perform it as a duet with Nicks for inclusion on her record Bella Donna, released a month after Hard Promises. Petty and the Heartbreakers’ chart success with Hard Promises tanked as soon as Nicks released “Stop Dragging.” DJs weren’t going to keep both Nicks’s and Petty’s singles “The Waiting” and “A Woman in Love” in heavy rotation. They sounded too much alike—similar guitar tones and rhythm section, on many lines the same singer—which makes sense since Nicks’s song had been originally recorded for Petty’s record. Nicks and Iovine hoped to score another hit, but when Iovine approached Petty he declined to provide a song, suggesting, instead, a British songwriter whose star was rising. Enter Dave Stewart. Best known as the non-Annie Lenox member of The Eurythmics, Stewart was flamboyant, gregarious, and a lot of what the Heartbreakers weren’t at the moment: different and fun. Not long after he began working with Nicks and Iovine, Stewart called Petty to thank him for the referral. The 50

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two musicians didn’t know each other, so Stewart suggested that Petty drop in on the session so they could meet and perhaps work on something for the Nicks record. This was deep into what had become the drudgery of the Southern Accents sessions when, as Petty has said, “A field trip was always welcome.”6 A few different origin stories are in circulation, but they adhere to the same general outline. When Petty arrived at the studio Nicks, Stewart, and Iovine were working on music that would ultimately become “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The song’s origins reportedly lie in an exchange Stewart overheard between Nicks and the Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh. “Don’t come ‘round here no more,” Nicks yelled at a heartbroken Walsh. They had recently broken up and Walsh was on the scene pleading for reconciliation. Nicks called it quits after working for several hours on the song. The guys kept at it. Eventually Petty cut a vocal line. There would be months of subsequent labor on the song, but the basics of one of Petty’s most iconic tunes were cut that evening, on a lark. When Stevie Nicks returned to the studio the next day, Petty, Stewart, and Iovine were eager to play her the song. It was great, she thought, but a great Tom Petty song. His overnight performance had transformed the track from a Stevie Nicks number into a Tom Petty hit. She congratulated Petty and Stewart on the song. Then she fired Iovine. Southern Accents’ most famous song straddles the line between the original concept and the corrosion of what I’d like to call “Dave Stewart’s Folly,” the two other songs he and Petty cowrote for the record and which are discussed below. The phrase “Don’t Come Around Here No More” 51

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itself, as Petty has said, reeks of the Southern curmudgeon. On important levels, the song is a nice encapsulation of a certain sort of wounded Southern pride—it manages to be both the snarling, angry old man at the door yelling at kids to get off his lawn and a brokenhearted lover past all hope of redemption. The song is one of Petty’s most iconic hits—and a mighty peculiar sounding one. Only a rock star could’ve released “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Strip everything away, the sitar and the production and the drum machine, and there’s actually not much there. And here’s how I know: play this song by yourself on an acoustic guitar. It doesn’t exist. It’s more a vehicle for charisma than a song. This isn’t to detract from the accomplishment of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” as a recording. It’s engaging and stunning and unexpected and quite groovy, both embracing and transcending its moment in pop history. But the song rests on frail joists. “It’s just kind of a chant,” Tench says. “And it’s just strange. Dave’s work on that is brilliant, and the little vocal things that come in and out, it’s really eerie and psychedelic and gorgeous. And somehow, even with that stupid drum machine, it’s got some kind of a sway, it’s got some kind of a swing.” “It’s a brilliant novelty song,” Campbell says, agreeing with Tench. “Tom and Dave wrote a brilliant novelty song.” Petty and Stewart quickly became a team. They even started dressing alike. They prowled LA wearing matching, custommade Nudie suits—rhinestone studded rodeo suits named after their tailor-originator, the Kiev-born Nudie Cohn, and sported by the likes of Hank Williams Sr., Elvis, and Gram Parsons. 52

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But Stewart’s biggest impact was on the music. Elated with “Don’t Come Around,” Petty and Stewart quickly wrote two more songs that would be included on Southern Accents, “It Ain’t Nothing to Me” and “Make It Better (Forget About Me).” As Petty told Robert Hilburn, “Dave records like taking Polaroids.”7 It shows. Both tracks are radically, embarrassingly inferior to “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The Petty-Stewart collaboration irrevocably and comprehensively transformed the nature of Southern Accents, decentering the conceptual nature of the record. These songs’ bizarre indebtedness to white boy funk and mid-1980s’ production values shred the Southern concept’s integrity. “It Ain’t Nothing to Me” is the worst. It sounds like cocaine. Or, to be more precise, the song sounds like a part of the DJ’s set at some kind of Saturday Night Fever, cokeaddled disco club in Gainesville, Florida. Both of these songs rely too much on synth-drenched production and chord vamping. With “It Ain’t” you realize quickly—seven seconds in—that something has gone horribly awry. There are horns. There are pinched-sounding group backing vocals. There’s a condescending mention of Papua New Guineans. It’s so bad, so disappointing, that one is forced into a series of similes to make sense of how bad this song is. The song sounds like music for a montage sequence in a straight-to-VHS Eddie Murphy movie. The “fuck​-it-a​ll-to​-hell​-exce​pt-da​ncing​ -with​-you”​attitude of the song can be read, charitably, as Southern. Teenagers all over America act like that, though. Teenagers on cocaine. Both of the “Stewart’s Folly” tracks open with a bit of studio gibberish, useless production spasms, before breaking 53

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open. Somehow the second single released for the record “Make It Better” proves more resilient to time (and sobriety) than “It Ain’t Nothing to Me.” The transition from the verse chord progression into the chorus is kind of nice, but there’s still a terribly compressed feel to this song, a hallmark of the 1980s. From a production standpoint the song is interesting. Petty and Stewart cram many different textures in the tune, but they don’t amount to much. If you donned your charity headphones, you could shoehorn this track into the saga of our nameless Rebel. Maybe. But the writing is bad. The final judgment on this one comes succinctly from Petty himself, who told journalist Paul Zollo, “I hate that song. It’s just trash.”8 “I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Tench says about why completing Southern Accents as a concept album floundered. “Maybe everybody was having too much fun. Maybe it was just because Dave Stewart is so much fun to be around. You get caught up in the enthusiasm. Cause he’s so much fun to be around. He’s so creative. But, it lost the plot.” It’s not a unique opinion that Dave Stewart’s charismatic entrance and the subsequent songs he wrote with Petty spelled the end of Southern Accents’ conceptual coherence. Petty himself told Paul Zollo, of his collaboration with Stewart, “I think it flawed the album. Because it left the concept. I thought it was a southern phrase: ‘Don’t come around here no more.’ But it didn’t really have much to do with the album.” What applies to an obvious triumph, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” applied even more so to the distractions. “And important songs—‘Trailer’—were relegated to B-sides,” Petty continued. “The album suffered 54

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that way. And I think it didn’t get finished because I was just exhausted and couldn’t finish it.”9 It’s quite a stew—artistic ambition and dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and radically different recording circumstances. Despite the chaos, the Southern Accents sessions were completed and a record was released. What did it all amount to? At one point, there were twenty-six songs competing for inclusion on the Southern Accents double album. At the end of the process, Jimmy Iovine arrived on the scene, nixed the double album idea, and culled the work down to nine tracks. Despite the short track listing, Southern Accents presents as, basically, the opposite of a concept album. It’s an inexpert gumbo with flavors that don’t cohere. Other than a handful of musicians, songs like “Southern Accents” and “Make It Better” don’t share many qualities, including quality, that you might think of. The promise of “Rebels” is squandered by the dopiness of “Mary’s New Car.” In Southern Accents’ modest nine tracks, you’ll find the seeds or detritus of three distinct records: songs that align with Petty’s original intention, the “Stewart’s Folly” contributions of “Make It Better” and “It Ain’t Nothing,” and two other songs we’ll call outliers, “Mary’s New Car” and “The Best of Everything.” Finally and most poignantly, outside of the final record are the songs what were intended for Southern Accents but for one reason or another were left off. This is “The Shadow Southern Accents,” the record that could’ve been if Petty had maintained his commitment to his Southern concept. 55

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First, there are the core Southern Accents songs, the vestigial remnants of the Southern concept, an episodic tale about a down on his luck Southerner and his frustration with life, love, the world, and himself: “Rebels,” “Southern Accents,” “Spike,” and “Dogs on the Run.” “Don’t Come Around Here No More” treads the line between the core concept and “Stewart’s Folly.” The psychedelic trappings of “Don’t Come Around Here” feel a bit off for the rest of the Southern thing, but Petty’s sneering swagger and the deeply Southern “get off my lawn” heartburn of the song qualify this as one of the Southern tracks. Taken together this quintet of songs offers an urgent argument for the initial genius of the Southern concept. Despite whatever imperfections may marble these songs, there is an undeniable aesthetic coherence and vigor uniting them. The title song is a powerful contender for the most beautiful song in Petty’s catalog. A quiet, ruminative ballad carried along by light-handed piano and lush yet restrained production, “Southern Accents” provides the record’s emotional and artistic centerpiece. Autobiographical insofar as the entire concept drew on Petty’s youth, the speaker in “Southern Accents” is the same guy from “Rebels.” The lines “the young’uns call it southern  /  the Yankees call it dumb” take a deeply personal song and slyly and unobtrusively provide a critique for much of the distrust in American society: everybody has their own way of doing things, aren’t ashamed of it, and are tired of being denigrated for it. Speaking of Southern accents, Petty jaws his way through “Spike,” exaggerating his lower register and adopting the persona of a retrograde hater and good old boy whose 56

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anxiety about the future is manifested in an encounter with a dog collar wearing kid at a local bar. With its midrange, midtempo swagger, “Spike” is another song where we can hear the remnants of the original Southern Accents. The music itself rolls along with swampy bar boogie groove. Tench’s organ line is a particular treat. Petty’s mocking performance on “Spike” lampoons a certain kind of intolerant Southerner. On stage Petty often told a story about the origins of “Spike.” The Cypress Lounge was one of the toughest bars in Gainesville. One hot summer day, as Petty stared at the bar, he sees a local punk wearing dog collar walk into the bar. We don’t have any evidence that Spike survived the “hippie killers” at the Cypress Lounge. But we have the song. “I know what bar he walked into. I mean, I may not know the name of it, but I can see it,” Tench tells me, referring to the stage banter Petty often used to introduce the song in concert. “All of that stuff? That’s all legit. Whether it’s the Cypress Lounge, whether it ever happened. But the kind of bar and the decor and the wall paneling and where it was— go around back through the parking lot, behind the ABC Liquor Lounge, or whatever it was—I know that and that’s Gainesville. And all of this is just Gainesville.” “Spike” also offers up evidence that the band’s chemical indulgences weren’t solely due to basing their work at Petty’s Encino home studio. “Did Ben talk to you about tracking ‘Spike’?,” Campbell asks me about midway through our talk. “Do we want to go into this?” Tench told me he was really high, I replied. He said the band went down and he went up. 57

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“That’s true,” Campbell replies. “Well, it’s the only time. I have to preface this because with Tom’s passing there’s a lot of confusion about how he passed. Tom is not a junkie. Okay? I mean early, maybe in the Echo record, he went through some stuff when he got divorced. It was very minor. But basically he had a great work ethic. And, we would never do that in the studio. Howie [Epstein, the Heartbreakers bassist from 1982 until 2002; he died in 2003], on the other hand, was struggling at the time, on heroin. That night, and this is Howie’s fault, we were going to do ‘Spike’ and he had a little, uh, brown powder. So everybody just snorted a little bit. Except for Ben, god bless him. And that track we cut in that mode. It was just a little bit. But that track kind of has that groove in it, you know. It worked okay on that track. That was all we did. We didn’t do anything else. And that was that one time, honestly. It was the one time we ever did that as a band.” “Dogs on the Run”—the final song that strictly adheres to the Southern concept—is one of Petty’s under-appreciated gems. The track highlights the final appearance of the character from “Rebels.” “Dogs” isn’t as beautiful or plaintive as “Southern Accents.” It’s not a masterpiece of studio alchemy like “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” It’s not as propulsive a rocker as “Rebels.” But “Dogs” is a damn fine 1-4-5 rock song. Appearing midway through side two, “Dogs” returns to the saga of the nameless rebel. Obviously conceived as an essential part of the concept narrative, “Dogs” gets by on its swagger and its lyrics. The song has several parallels with its more famous brother, “Rebels.” In the same way “Rebels” shows an aggrieved person refusing to own up to 58

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their own mistakes while shrouding themselves in anxiety over the dissolution of a lifestyle, “Dogs” offers up another escape route from the narrator’s self. Also like “Rebels,” the song is in a major key and the production is bright. “Dogs on the Run” is a great rock song—and Mike Campbell’s sole cowriting credit on Southern Accents—but it’s more of a tease than a satisfaction. When Petty performed the song live it was quiet, acoustic interpretation. Lyrically “Dogs on the Run” is a bit of a dream. For Tench, the song is about youth. “Dogs on the Run,” he says, “it feels like youth. It feels like, it just feel like growing up.” I’ve let myself be swayed by Tench’s read on the song, but when Tench sees an uncomplicated youth, I see a youth that’s nearly being pulled under by the weight of reality. And now, despite being somewhat incidental to much of what we’ll discuss in the remainder of this book, it seems imperative to run down some notes on the other tracks. The outliers Mary’s New Car: I’ll cop to a soft spot for this bit of frothy filler due to my interactions with the lovely Mary Klauzer. Mary bought a car. Mary showed Tom the car. Tom wrote a song about her car. It’s that simple and just a bit dumber than I’m making it sound. Somehow Petty ended up in a court battle with tire manufacture BF Goodrich when a plagiarized version of the tune ended up in a tire commercial. 59

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The Best of Everything: This track has a convoluted history and it is probably the oldest song on Southern Accents. Originally recorded during the Hard Promises sessions, as noted earlier, Petty resurrected this song after Robbie Robertson of The Band requested Petty to contribute a song to the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film, The King of Comedy. Petty’s contract kept the song off the soundtrack, so “The Best of Everything” returned to Petty, with the addition of Robertson’s production, which included the horns and the ghostly vocal tracking of former The Band member Richard Manuel. Robertson’s additions expanded Petty’s understanding of what his band could do, and in many ways helped set Southern Accents in motion. A lovely song, but with a third set of production values, it feels as if it yet again is from an entirely different record. Despite what members of the Heartbreakers have said, “The Best of Everything” feels less Southern and more John Hughes. The service industry and heartache aren’t solely Southern things. September 2018 saw the release of American Treasure, a collection of alt takes, unreleased songs, and live performances, including a version of “The Best of Everything” with the second verse restored. It’s not the Hard Promises recording— Manuel’s vocal and the horns are present—but you can hear the verse Robertson removed. Roberton’s a good editor. The Shadow Southern Accents Some Petty fans play a “what if ” game about a Southern masterpiece that never was. For me, the most realistic yet still 60

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conceptually sound Southern Accents reveals itself when you add the five core Southern songs to the following six. The Image of Me: A Heartbreakers favorite—both Tench and Campbell spoke at length about it—this cover of a song by the consummate 1970s’ country music superstar Conway Twitty marks the last time the band worked with producer Denny Cordell. The near perfection of this galloping performance—and the lack of the gimcrack dandy 1980s’ production that mars much of Southern Accents—moves a 1970s’ radio country song sonically into the present while also highlighting the song’s indebtedness to its country past. The Heartbreakers display a perfect balance of looseness and rigor, with Petty and Campbell’s performances particularly shining. It’s impossible to understand why this song remained unreleased until the 1995 six CD box set Playback. In fact, the quality of this performance should have inspired Petty to keep faith with his original idea for the album. “The Image of Me” is one of the best sounding things the Heartbreakers ever recorded and, with its tale of a weak Southern man diminishing a strong Southern woman, fits the album’s conceptual narrative perfectly. Trailer: Released as the B side to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” this is another track that just about everybody thinks should have been included on Southern Accents. A potent, quick blend of the circumstances that sometimes define the life choices of both the lower middle class and the impoverished and a wholly believable run down of the short sighted sacrifices we sometimes make for young love, 61

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“Trailer” is one of Petty’s most accomplished character sketches and a fine example of how rock ’n’ roll can be poetic sociology. From a production standpoint, the song still sounds good despite a rather thin sounding, over-chorused acoustic guitar. The Apartment Song: Sometimes polishing a song doesn’t mean perfecting it. Petty fans know “The Apartment Song” as one of Full Moon Fever’s lesser tunes. The original demo, cut during the Southern Accents sessions and featuring Stevie Nicks’s voice snaking alongside Petty’s, feels wild and vital where the FMF release feels mannered and restrained. It’s become the obvious and recurring rhetorical question, but why did Petty fail to include “The Apartment Song” on Southern Accents? It’s possible that the song covers terrain too similar to “Trailer.” At least one should’ve been on Southern Accents, though. As an aside, both “Trailer” and “Apartment Song” foreshadow the turn Petty’s work would take with Full Moon Fever. The songs lack the swagger of his previous work. In the case of the “The Apartment Song,” this might be because before releasing the demo on Playback original drummer Stan Lynch’s drum tracks were removed and Steve Ferrone’s added. Big Boss Man: A studio lark that captured the Heartbreakers playing musical chairs (bassist Howie Epstein plays lead guitar and Tench plays bass), this short Jimmy Reed song of workplace dissatisfaction feels like a natural component of Southern Accents.

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Cracking Up: This Nick Lowe song was released as the B Side to “Make It Better,” which seems appropriate. Neither the song nor the performance is that remarkable and the production makes the song feel like a mid-1980s’ rock/country crossover, boasting the dated production of “Stewart’s Folly” without the levity. Walkin’ from the Fire: Until its release as part of September 2018’s American Treasure, this track was mostly forgotten— the song lived in lyrics transplanted into the later “My Life/ Your World.” A swampy mid-tempo groove that makes good use of Campbell’s slide guitar skills, “Walkin’ from the Fire” will surely be added to the list of Southern Accents’ lost opportunities. It’s arguably the most “southern” sounding song from the sessions. Like many of the songs that were left off the record, this was produced in a more transparent, organic manner than some of the songs Petty included on Southern Accents. It sounds better. The song would also have helped develop our nameless Rebel’s character. “Walkin’ from the Fire” should’ve preceded “Southern Accents” on the album sequencing. Initially seeming like a song about his younger brother being busted for cocaine, the song ultimately offers a compelling counterpoint to the song “Southern Accents.” Whereas in the latter, the narrator has become itinerant and is longing for his mother, in the newly released song we have a portrait of familial tension if not acrimony. Also, the mention of Chuck Berry in the last verse would have signaled the only direct reference to African American culture on Southern Accents.

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Southern Accents’ title track is beguiling, haunting. It’s pointillism as rock song, a rare kind of accomplishment. Orlando’s orange groves, Atlanta’s drunk tank, the narrator’s mother kneeling in prayer for her son. As much as any song in Petty’s catalog, “Southern Accents” is stark, bare, and beautiful. Petty knew he’d pulled something special out of the ether when he wrote the song, quickly while sitting at a piano in those unsteady hours when you’re not sure if it’s night or morning. The bridge of the song where “she,” the narrator’s mother, forcefully shifts all of this song’s character and setting and psychology into a poignant personal narrative about familial love and loss is a masterful evocation of feelings as old as music itself. The final verse about the mother praying (something which could be tracked down in an endless number of lazy country songs that just plug the notion of prayer into a song to bait emotion) works perfectly because of the simplicity of “Southern Accents” and the nakedness of the performance. Anyone who cares about the way that rock ’n’ roll can save or redeem a life must surely recognize the grace in this testament of bruised spiritual survival. Holy moly.

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“Southern Accents” also ably presents a brief folk sociology of American individualism that today has become one flavor of contemporary national acrimony. The “young’uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb” acutely distills the always perceived—and often real—Northern arrogance and the ways in which that region denies complicity in the shameful origins of our country. While there’s no denying that our country is often ideologically split along regional lines, the tendency to treat North and South as dichotomous opposites—enlightenment versus backward thinking; tolerance versus racism—selectively forgets that the blame is collective. “The Yankees call it dumb” combined with the repeated assertion that “I got my own way” suggests the root of the political and social turmoil of today, North and South. A lot of people got their own way of doing things— be it owning guns, getting tattoos, or, I don’t know, playing polo—aren’t ashamed of it, and are tired of being denigrated for it. “Southern Accents” the song consistently conjures these responses from me. Yes, it’s Petty’s most beautiful song. Yes, it perfectly accomplishes, without flash or flamboyance, what it sets out to achieve. More than any other song on the album, “Southern Accents” provides the high watermark of Petty’s songwriting. And still. It’s difficult for me to feel perfectly comfortable with the track because of the stunted cultural and social assumptions contained in both the song’s narrative and the world within which the song embeds itself. It’s not just the title song. This holds true across the entirety of the Southern Accents track 66

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listing, from gems like “Southern Accents” to stinkers like “Make It Better.” Southern Accents’ understanding of the South is ultimately one that’s more indebted to Gone with the Wind than the reality of the South. Its biggest moral failing is that it replicates the long-standing depiction of a South almost wholly dominated by white people. Why is it that black people can’t have Southern accents? Now, it’s easy to let Southern Accents wash over you and not think about the record’s origins as a record about the South. It’s easy to accept of Petty’s later claims that he “wasn’t tryin’ to answer the Big Questions, I was just tryin’ to glaze over it and get some of the feel from it.” He “didn’t try to take sides on any issue or anything—I just wanted to present it. It was just a theme to work from, so that I didn’t get caught up in love songs and stuff.”1 That’s the rub, though. Southern Accents, by its nature as a record about the South, can’t help but speak to Big Questions. Glazing over the South, getting the feel for it, just presenting the South is always-already taking sides in long-standing debates about Southern culture, the legacy of the Civil War, and the attempted diminishment if not erasure of African American contributions to the region and the nation. Petty suspected this, at least a bit. As he told a journalist during the period, “If you go down to some places in the South, the Civil War is still very present . . . . When I was in Atlanta I was noticing all that stuff about the Civil War around—rebel flags. They won’t lay that down.”2 Yet, to paraphrase novelist and essayist Albert Murray, even in the record’s high point Petty confused the folklore of white supremacy with the constitution of Southern culture. 67

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Tench was right when he said early in our conversation that Southern Accents is largely about love. It’s a strange love though. The subtext threaded through much of the album— what the record is largely about—is not the love but anxiety about losing what the nameless Rebel loves. “Nostalgia,” historian Michael Kammen has written, “is most likely to increase or become prominent in times of transition, in periods of cultural anxiety, or when a society feels a strong sense of discontinuity with its past.”3 It seems to me that the South—and in this instance I distinctly mean the white South—has been nothing but an engine of nostalgia since the 1860s when it went to war to preserve its racist social and economic structure. Southern Accents grows from this same complex of nostalgia, anxiety, and sentimentality about the white Southern past. In “Rebels” the narrator clings to the destruction of Southern cities as a way of excusing his dissolute behavior; the guy in the song needs Southern exceptionalism, even if the region is only exceptional in its Civil War defeat, to excuse and rationalize his personal frustrations. In “Southern Accents” the narrator’s love for family seems rivaled by his determination to maintain his unique Southern identity—his “own way” of talking, living, praying—despite changing times. In Southern Accents’ redneck character study “Spike,” Petty sings he’s “mad about the future . . . . The future ain’t what it used to be.” I’m not so naive as to think there’s something as stable as the South. There are as many Souths as there are arguments about the South vying for supremacy in the national imagination, and the South is something that people love to argue about. Each of these Souths has its own attitudes about 68

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gender and race, as well as the relationship between the states of the former Confederacy and the rest of the country. Yet much the same way that folks think of a white American Girl, many people—usually white people—tend to think of the American South as the white American South. This is, of course, a ridiculous perversion of history, but a perversion embedded in Southern Accents.* Now, it’s surely true that Petty can’t be held responsible for giving voice to every single person in the South. But it is also surely true that by its very nature, a concept album aspiring to deal with the American South in any legitimate sense needs to deal with (read: at least acknowledge the existence of) race and racism. If you’re seeking to produce art rather than shit, that is. I want to stress that we’re not fitting Petty for the black hat—or the white robe—of an avowed racist. Petty didn’t need to cultivate or work toward any of this stuff. That’s largely the problem and largely my point. It just happened. Petty either didn’t think it through because it never occurred to him, or if he did he opted for colorblindness which, to paraphrase Michael Eric Dyson, is always an investment in whiteness. This is precisely why Petty is important to this conversation. Petty, Tench, and Campbell stress their antiracist credentials. They’re right and that’s true. But despite Yes, just about all of rock and country music tended to, and continues to, erase African Americans from the notion of the “South.” This also applies, of course, to all US residents of non-European descent, people whose families hail from Asia, Central America, and the like. In the Southern context, and predominantly even in the broader national context, the erasure of African Americans is most stark. *

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their intentions, the character and the narrators presented in Southern Accents only gives voice to white guys. White Southern Identity. At this point it seems undeniable that The White Southern Man is a distinct group as much as Italian Americans, Irish Americans, or a number of other populations. But none of these groups would ever confuse their identities with the notion of a generalized American identity, let alone that of the American identity. Except the Southern white male. That’s the problem with the notion of white Southern identity: the white Southern male often insists that the nation, and definitely the South, was forged in his image. This is no small point. This accounts for statements like “can the South exist independent of the history of the Confederacy?” with a straight face. Hint: if you ask a black woman that question, I’d wager you’d get a hearty “yes.” As historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage writes, “When southern identity is assumed to be interchangeable with white identity, much more than semantics are at stake. White claims to power, status, and collective identity are advanced at the same time that black claims are undercut. The logic . . . rests on a presumption that the heritage of southern African Americans merits little recognition and has scant influence on the region’s culture.”4 This goes beyond the content of Southern Accents’ lyrics—or even the songs that I consider the record’s heart. Both “Make It Better” and “It Ain’t Nothing to Me” move along on what are predominantly the black-identified sounds of soul and funk. If Petty had truly been interested in claiming Southern authenticity—one that would include black people, even if not equally—he could have recruited collaborators from the 70

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strong tradition of Southern, interracial music collaboration. A living lineage between the musicians that Petty and Tench mentioned earlier, the great Southern soul players of the 1950s and 1960s, existed into the 1980s. Contributors to Philly Sound were around. Even some of the session players from the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama—a lot of white guys, a few African American guys—would’ve let Petty anchor himself firmly in the South’s integrated musical traditions. Basically any good jazz player. These are all pathways that didn’t include Dave Stewart, a British white dude who sounds as Southern as Petty sounds British.† I’d like to think Petty understood this at the time, though I’m ultimately unconvinced. It might be a stretch, particularly since I heard the song for the first time literally hours before I had to turn over this manuscript, but the newly released “Walkin’ from the Fire” seems to hint at this absence. As I wrote earlier, as far as we know, the song features the sole direct invocation of African American culture recorded during the Southern Accents sessions: “I know Chuck Berry,” Petty sings, “wasn’t singing that to me,” by which the narrator reinforces racial barriers, hinting at the well-known and obvious fact that African Americans invented rock ’n’ roll. In an MTV documentary about Southern Accents Petty is at best ambivalent about presenting a comfortably integrated South. Throughout the film, Petty tells tales while wearing a Don’t get me wrong: the irony of this book, a book that is in large part about the erasure of African Americans that doesn’t itself make a robust place for African Americans, unsettles me. †

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trucker cap that has a skull emblazoned over the Battle Flag. In several scenes Petty browses a small shop, running his hands over tchotchkes and holding small Confederate flags playfully by their tiny flagpoles. “Southern Accents, I don’t have much one anymore,” Petty says as the film opens. He spends the rest of the short documentary drawling through teeth that barely seem to part.5 Occasionally he launches into his “Moonpie” Southern character, and as Petty, Tench, and then-drummer Stan Lynch drive a camera crew around Gainesville, Petty acts like some swampy old grandpa who should’ve had his license taken away a decade earlier. The documentary’s most provocative moments occur as the song “Southern Accents” plays. As the song plays, images of working-class Southerners are shown going about their business. Just as many of these shots feature African Americans as they do whites, which accounts for the provocation: it suggests for the first time in the context of the record that black people can have Southern accents. Petty fishes on a pier, wearing his Battle Flag trucker hat next to an African American woman. Young black kids play on the streets of Gainesville, clothes hang out to dry. Spliced into these snippets of daily life in the city are shots of Petty in the general store, wearing the Battle Flag hat, fondling a commemorative-sized Battle Flag, and goofing off.

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In 1931 Warner Bros Studios opened a new flagship theater at the corner of Wiltshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles. An opulent, Art Deco movie palace, the Warner Bros Western Theater was christened with a screening of Alexander Hamilton, a pre-Code biopic starring and based on a screenplay by movie star George Arliss. The revelry ran deep. Red carpets were rolled out, the glamorous presented themselves, and there was a brass band, likely braying some jubilant Sousa nonsense. For a year or so the Western Theater anchored the intersection at the edge of LA’s Chinatown, screening such films as The Cabin in the Cotton, You Said a Mouthful, and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. After a year the theater went dark, only to be reopened in 1934, shorn of its Warner Bros client status and renamed the Wiltern, a mash-up of the theater’s home intersection— WILtshire and wesTERN. American culture, at least from the middlebrow down, is as often as not a romance of nostalgia. The bitterness of the 1930s sharpened the nation’s taste for sweet tales of redemption, and venues like the Wiltern offered majestic platforms for such redemption. Since the early part of the twentieth century, the Civil War had gone through a

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facelift in national memory. As historian David Blight has written, commemorations of the war emphasized reunion and shared heritage over the war’s actual history, with slavery and other pungent issues checked at the door of the new century. In national memory, mutual heroism and valor of Union and Confederate forces became the point of the war. That Americans of all stripes were willing to sacrifice for their beliefs became the most important lesson fertilized by the graves of some 600,000 war dead. One of the things the culture industry quickly latched on to was the “Lost Cause” of the noble Confederacy. In addition to the public memorializations of the war, publishing, tourism, and other industries quickly began peddling romantic notions of the South. Images of the South anchored marketing schemes for products such as Southern Comfort liquor, Maxwell House Coffee, and Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour. Likewise, the film industry saw visions of the Confederacy as a way of transporting many weary moviegoers to a “simpler” or “purer” time. The fourth highest grossing film of 1935, and one that likely played to capacity crowds at the Wiltern, was The Littlest Rebel, an ugly little Shirley Temple vehicle about the troubles encountered by a slave-owning, plantation-living family during the Civil War. Temple’s character, the six-year-old Virgie Carey, secures a pardon from Abraham Lincoln so that her father, a former Confederate officer, isn’t executed. Not to bevel off the edges of American cultural chaos, but The Littlest Rebel played an uncredited cameo in what would become full-on revisionist Confederate fever in the United States: Anne Edwards, biographer of Temple and Mitchell, argues that while drafting Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell saw The Littlest Rebel, 74

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and that the film’s opening scene—a party where Virgie learns of the attack on Fort Sumter, and thus the start of the Civil War— inspired the famous opening scene of Mitchell’s novel, one of the last sections written for the book. The film’s adaptation of Mitchell’s novel did two things marvelously well. First, it undersold the complicated negotiations between the “old” South and the “new” that much of Mitchell’s book was about. Second, the film also did more than just about any single cultural artifact to redeem the iconography of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and institutionalize the acceptance of the mythic Lost Cause of the Confederate South. The Wiltern served Angelenos from the 1930s to the 1970s, but the decades took their toll. After two plans to demolish the theater were abandoned, the spot was reinvented as a music venue. Since May 1985 the Wiltern has been one of the country’s premier mid-sized venues. The place is high LA, an intimate theater hosting the biggest acts in the world in the nation’s most art-for-profit’s-sake town. It’s also the place where, on the evenings of August 6 and 7, 1985, Petty made his LA stand during the Southern Accents tour, capturing on film his use of the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t mean to imply some kind of billiard ball causality between Gone with the Wind and Southern Accents. It’s less clean than that, more insidious. Novelist William Faulkner’s quip about the past not being dead, that it’s not even past, was the first Southern history meme. And it’s true. Even in the unlikeliest of places. Even Los Angeles is marbled with the echoes of the Civil War. Whatever was rotten at the heart of Southern Accents as a record—the erasure of African Americans, the endorsement 75

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of the Southern mystique—the ludicrousness of the record’s execution rendered that rottenness mostly benign. Petty embarked on and then abandoned a Southern concept album. No great shame. The result is a deeply flawed record and a wishful-thinking legend about a masterpiece that wasn’t meant to be. If he’d let the record remain a naively envisioned, one-sided commentary on the anxieties of the South and Southern identity, or on a youth spent out in Gainesville, or even merely a character study of a solitary, embittered Southerner, that would have been one thing. That one thing would still exhibit the faults and shortcomings discussed earlier, but it would be easier to overlook. But Petty wouldn’t let it go. After the record’s release, he doubled down on the Southern mystique. In the press for the record he’d kept up appearances, talking up the Southern origin story.* During Southern Accents’ rollout he not only promoted the notion of a concept record, but claimed success in executing the concept. In the previously mentioned MTV documentary made just after the release of the record, Petty talks up his Southern roots and the Southern concept while wearing a Battle Flag trucker hat. The iconography of the Confederate South was the iconography of the Southern Accents tour. At merch tables, fans could buy shirts featuring the Battle Flag, including ones which featured a top hat, a Gibson Flying V, and a Battle Flag In contrast, Petty in later years rarely claimed that Southern Accents was meant to be a concept record, instead offering tepid comments about how the record was merely meant to have a theme. *

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leaning on what looks like a burning barn door. The cover of the tour book, now a nearly extinct species of memorabilia, features Petty’s photo resting on a nicely fluffed Battle Flag. I spoke with Tommy Steele, the designer who worked on both the record and the tour book. When asked about the Confederate imagery, Steele said, “Tom actually gave me the Confederate Flag to photograph, so it was definitely something he wanted to use within his concept of touring off that album.” Unfortunately, the Confederacy extended beyond tour merchandise. The stage set featured large columns, resembling those that adorn plantation houses. During the first few songs of each show, Petty wore a long black topcoat. After a few numbers, he would flamboyantly remove it, making a point to show the Confederate Battle Flag lining in his coat. Most notably, the Heartbreakers displayed a massive electric Battle Flag as their backdrop during the tour. The flag blazed to life when the band played “Rebels.” At the Wiltern those nights back in 1985, the band launched into “Rebels” around midway through their set. The big electric flag jolts to life. A few minutes into the song, as the Battle Flag blazes, Petty scoops an actual Battle Flag from the stage. He dervishes the flag around. He drapes it over his shoulder like a swampy, unreconstructed Ziggy Stardust. More than any other song that band played at the Wiltern, “Rebels” is a performance. Petty acts out the Southern loser in the song, strutting across the stage with an insolent smirk. He’s mugging at the camera. He makes a kind of, “not bad, who knew?” face at the crowd. As if he just wandered onstage with a band he didn’t know but that happens to tune into the 77

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same thing. The same heritage. Somehow more nasally than usual, Petty sneers his way through the lyrics, “honey don’t walk out / I’m too drunk to follow,” amid the pageantry, flag draped over his shoulder. Additionally, the flag appears in several other scenes. At first it’s lying on the stage. Then you see it thrown from the crowd onto the stage. In the video’s final shot, the flag is draped over Petty’s mic stand. We know all of this because the Wiltern concerts are the heart of the live concert video and album, Pack Up the Plantation: LIVE!. The Heartbreakers released the “Rebels” performance from the show as a stand-alone video. Good luck finding the footage, though. Petty’s crew has scrubbed the video from the internet. You can still find the “Rebels” clip by digging beyond YouTube, or you can see most of the concert if you can get your hands on two rarities: a VCR and a VHS copy of Pack Up the Plantation. When you locate the complete Pack Up the Plantation concert online, “Rebels” is still missing. The only flag you’ll see is in the lining of Petty’s coat, as he theatrically removes it before playing “You Got Lucky.” Rough enough in isolation, but damning in the context of “Rebels.” Petty drew inspiration from Randy Newman for the entirety of Southern Accents. In 1974 Newman released Good Old Boys, the arch satirist’s and master of discomfort’s vivisection of the South. Coincidentally, Newman initially intended Good Old Boys as a song cycle told from the perspective of a single Southerner. Newman jettisoned that idea, executing instead an album of character-driven vignettes steeped in Southern racism, Northern hypocrisy,

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and American melody. It’s quite something, even if Newmanthe-Pixar-composer would be professionally destroyed (maybe rightfully so) if he released the record today. Petty borrowed inspiration from Newman when writing Southern Accents. In particular, Petty called “Rebels” a “story song,” his phrase for character driven, narrative compositions. Petty sang the song from the point of view of the character and claimed that the sentiments were not his so much as those of a class of embittered Southern white dude. That scans, cosmetically. Petty’s work often adopted or explored character traits. “The American Girl is just one example of this character that I write about a lot,” Tom Petty once said. “The small-town kid who knows there’s something more out there, but gets fucked up trying to find it. I always felt sympathetic with her.”1 There are several other examples of this character type in his work (but as you’ll note, the difference here is that Petty writes about the American Girl, not as her). At first, “Rebels” appears a part of this continuum. Petty’s songs don’t feel like character sketches. This is in many ways the trap of sincerity or authenticity. This is part of what drives fans to Petty’s work, and part of why there was such an aggrieved outpouring after his unexpected death. It was easy to mistake the man for his music, and in most instances you’re on safe ground with that assumption. From early Petty to late, from “The Wild One, Forever” to “The Waiting” and on up through the later stages of his career with mournful gems like “Room at the Top,” Petty wasn’t “emoting.” He wasn’t “performing.” He was speaking to you. At least it feels that way.

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“The funny thing,” Petty told Creem magazine in 1985, “is when you’re playing characters, it’s pretty revealing about yourself in the end, I’m afraid.”2 “Rebels” opens Southern Accents, the importance of which Petty consistently stressed. If we were to play Petty’s catalog out in one long Kerouacian scroll, “Rebels” would be a shot in the arm, coming as it would after Long After Dark’s limp “A Wasted Life.” Yet even after all the turmoil and the broken bones, “Rebels” sounds merely okay. The production dulls the song’s teeth. What should be a full-on guitar number feels thin and synthy. A tragedy considering Petty writes the hell out of “Rebels.” The narrator, angry and aggrieved, is Petty’s understanding of a Southern everyman. The everymen everywhere are often embittered, angry, and refuse to accept that many of their problems are of their own making. The Southern everyman enjoys the same bounty, but also has anxiety stemming from the advance of civil rights and the perceived assault on Southern “heritage,” among other things. My read on the song is that Petty hoped to show the toxicity of this kind of Southern angst. My read takes some commitment, though. Several factors, including the song’s position as album opener to the celebratory “Hell yesness!” of the “I was born a Rebel” chorus, yank against the idea that “Rebels” is about the toxicity of the South. Also, and this may seem minor, that the song title is pluralized—Rebels and not a solitary Rebel—invites us to conspiratorially view the world in terms set out in the song. As a rock song shorn of context, “Rebels” would stand as one of Petty’s strongest achievements, despite the song’s 80

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power being significantly blunted by the 1980s’ production and its emphasis on synths and “Civil War horns.” There’s a rock guitar song beneath the varnish and the lacquer and you can’t deny that. “Rebels” chord progression is standard rock; it’s all I, IV, V, and the relative minor. There’s a reason why so many songs rely on just these chords—they all exist in a delicious tension with the root note, in the case of “Rebels” a C. The shuttling back and forth between the IV and V, the F and the G, then resolving with a little ingenuity on Am, the relative minor, is infectious. Alchemically, musically this feels good. Feels good the way that “Baba O’Riley” feels good on a sunny day when the windows are down. On first listen, it’s easy to assume that the “Rebels” of the track are caught in the sway of rock ’n’ roll rebellion, not a song about a guy who laments the impositions of the Union and Yankees on his life. But the main riff and the chorus are problematic precisely because of this anthemic nature. It sounds like the supposed nobility of something like Confederate General George Pickett charging into guns—a held-high anthem that is straight up “hear hear for the Confederacy!” Petty seemed to pick up on this, eventually. Following the Southern Accents tour, whenever Petty played “Rebels” (which wasn’t all that often) he would perform it as a muted, solo acoustic number, thereby stripping the song of its mood of glory. Which is all to say that for Petty to assume that his fans would greet the first track on what was rumored to be his masterpiece as a Randy Newman-esque character study was a bit optimistic. It makes me think of that great line Vonneget drops at the outset of Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”3 81

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Or as Greil Marcus once wrote, about Good Old Boys no less, “Audiences are no longer used to the idea that someone might make something up, create a persona and effectively act it out.”4 When you open a record like Southern Accents with a rant in service of the Confederacy, you’re courting misunderstanding. And on stage, when in the middle of the set you play that song and a big Battle Flag lights up and you don the Confederate Battle Flag like a shawl and prance around, the propulsive, anthemic ode to the South bringing the room to a boil? Well, you can’t expect every audience to make a fine distinction between the singer and the song. You can’t expect people who feel those grievances deeply and who have spent years feeling your music along with you to divorce that particular set of emotions from their response to a song as powerful as “Rebels.” At least I don’t think. That’s a blunt read of rock ’n’ roll fans. It’s also a realistic read of rock ’n’ roll fans. Both the tour iconography and the “Rebels” video made Petty appear less as a neutral storyteller than as an adherent to a particular form of white Southern pride. For many people the Confederate Battle Flag condenses and projects all of the anger, recrimination, confusion, and hatred that they see as typifying the American South. Petty’s use of the flag looks like an endorsement of all that. As a song, “Rebels” might have been able to claim the Randy Newman high road, but once the video sneered itself across the screen of MTV’s viewership, the stakes changed. Petty seemed to be wholly endorsing these ideas regardless of his storytelling impulses. Similar to the way that Wiltern had been an ostensibly neutral platform for apologist romances about the nobility 82

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of the South, in that video, Petty moves from commentary on the South to an embrace of a suite of ingrown American pathologies represented by the Battle Flag. What’s the big deal? Most folks in 1985 didn’t think it was a big deal, I suppose. As Mike Campbell told me, skirting dangerously close a sentiment that made me uncomfortable, “It was a more innocent time then.” Critics mostly shrugged off the Confederate iconography during the tour. A few drew attention to the flag, but more as a way of setting the scene for their readers. The Houston Chronicle wrote with a nonchalance that is difficult to imagine today, “In keeping with that cool Petty image, the set Sunday night was draped in slate-colored vinyl, like marble, and filled with backlit light show that had a Confederate flag drape.”5 Petty did receive some condemnation, and from a fellow Southerner. “Only someone who hasn’t lived in the South for 15 years would dare put a Confederate flag up above their stage,” REM’s Peter Buck told The Washington Post in 1986. “It really bothered me. The Confederate flag basically stands for a lot of badness that I don’t want to know about, that should be gone. And it’s the idiots that wave those kinda things around that don’t think. Every black person that sees that thing is gonna think, you’re a cracker and you’re an idiot and a racist. Which is what I think. I know he’s not a racist and I know he’s not an idiot. Maybe he is a cracker. But it’s a bad symbol.”6 Buck’s statement echoed the sentiments of a Billboard article earlier that same year. When New York City’s Black Rock Coalition criticized Petty for use of the Confederate Flag and for titling his live record Pack Up the Plantation, 83

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the magazine reported that “the perspective one uses in receiving images is often as important as what the creator of those images intended.”7 Beyond that isolated criticism, the big deal is this: in many ways the Confederate Battle Flag is the key to understanding Petty’s ambitions for Southern Accents. Or the limited imagination of Petty’s ambitions. The Flag is the key to what Petty was trying to communicate and why that communication was doomed to fail, at least as a comprehensive historical or artistic statement. The flag is key to revealing the depth (or, lack thereof) of Petty’s understanding of the American South. Petty put up a mirror for the nation, and reflected back arrogant, ugly ignorance, even if he didn’t mean it that way. In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Petty apologized for his use of the flag. “The Confederate Flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up,” he said. “I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo.”8 Tom Petty misunderstood at least two things. First, he seemed not to understand the embattled nature of either American history or American society. Second, and connected, he didn’t realize how deeply Southernized America had become. In 1985 when Petty picked up the battle standard and draped it over his shoulder, he failed to acknowledge the history and the manifold conflicted responses distilled in that symbol. If you want to draw a line

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from Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind to the 1948 explosion of Dixicrat racism and its unashamed embrace of the flag as a tool for attracting whites and alienating blacks, and then on to something like Michigander Kid Rock’s embrace of the Battle Flag, you could do worse than to look at Petty, whose personal bad decisions invoked and ignited the history he hoped to master and use to inform his music and storytelling. Tom Petty didn’t feel like history mattered to his record and his tour. In the same way that, for many folks, it isn’t apparent that you need to know history to truly know yourself.

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Civil War veterans lived among us until at least 1956. In early August of that year Albert Woolson, the last documented Civil War solider, died. Cudjoe Lewis, the last known surviving victim of the Atlantic slave trade, died in 1935. Americans born into slavery lived in the United States until the second half of the twentieth century. The last Civil War widow died in 2008. In 2018, the daughter of a Civil War veteran still received a monthly pension check from the United States earned through her father’s service. As I write this, my father is ninety-four years old. A man who was my father’s current age in 1923, when my dad was born, would have been thirty-six in 1865, when Grant and Lee ended primary hostilities at Appomotox. Or looked at another way, a man who was, say, twenty as the war broke out in 1861 would have only been sixty-two years old in 1923. From one perspective this seems like a stoner’s realization: “Dude, my dad is old,” aspirated with a cough, within a cloud. But from another perspective, this type of thinking is essential for grappling with the easily overlooked, startling compactness of American history. In a society where anything not in living memory feels as remote as mythology,

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an appreciation of our historical compression is necessary to understand both the South and the nation at large. When it comes to me, like many Southerners, I’m merely two generations removed from the direct impact of the Civil War. As the twentieth-century novelist Robert Penn Warren wrote, “The Civil War is our only ‘felt’ history—history lived in the national imagination. This is not to say that the War is always, and by all men, felt in the same way.”1 You don’t need to log on to Ancestry.com to see how the Civil War connects directly to you. It’s genealogical for many of us, sure, but as Warren wrote, “the effects of the War, for better and worse, permeate American culture—for we are so accustomed to breathe that we are unaware of the air we breathe.”2 All of this sprang to mind one evening in the fall of 2017 as I ambled through a small graveyard in the little Tidewater town of Mathews, Virginia. A few miles from the Town Square and its Confederate monument, Christ Episcopal Church sits near the water, a thin but lush scrim of Red Maple, Black Locust, and American Holly trees between the church and the shores of Mobjack Bay, part of the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore. A compact, sturdy Romanesque revival of red brick and white trim, the church is postcard-worthy. There’s a vivid red door and a lovely slate steeple. Kingston Parrish was established in 1652, and a house of worship has been on the site almost as long. The current building was erected in 1904. Giles Bucker, a member of Robert E. Lee’s Civil War staff, was church rector from 1904 to 1915. Autumn in Virginia can be quite beautiful, and the majesty of the evening mingled with the solitude of the churchyard 88

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to create a mild narcotic effect. While I stood there on that lovely, mid-October evening, a pleasant breeze mingled the Chesapeake’s brackish smell with the damp musk of fallen leaves and the nearby aroma of someone burning wood. Several gravesites hosted visitors. One left a small metal candleholder shaped like a Jack-O-Lantern, fresh votive flickering within. Others quietly paid their respects, exchanging fresh flowers for old and clearing away whatever weeds had sprouted since their last visit. The Christ Church graveyard was a living cemetery, if that makes sense. My eye was soon drawn to two small Confederate Battle Flags someone had placed in the front of a large memorial. As I looked around the graveyard I noticed several other tombstones with small Battle Flags, the kind and size that children would wave at a parade. I wandered from flag to flag, which adorned fewer than a dozen graves in the acre or so of the graveyard. The majority of those graves commemorated lives that ended between 1861 and 1865. A few listed death dates in the 1870s or 1880s, veterans who died after the war ended. There was one anachronistic outlier: a flag was next to the headstone of a man born in 1895, decades after the end of the war. I eventually found myself sitting on a stone bench in front of two CSA graves on the edge of the yard, Chesapeake visible through the trees, flags responding softly to the evening breeze. And then I started to feel it, or at least became aware of a feeling that often hums just beneath the more audible frequencies of my mind. In this unassuming and tranquil place the continued display of Confederate Flags alongside the graves of Civil War veterans felt wholly appropriate. For 89

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those of you who’ve not ventured South, if you spend any time there you’ll have daily intimacy with the icons and images, the statues and flags, of the Old South. Still the connection between the South of American history and contemporary veneration of the Confederacy often feels elusive or abstract to me. Then there are moments when a unity of Southern purpose is revealed, and you see Southern culture as a quiet dignified system of remembrance and commemoration. A network of relics and feelings, a web of nostalgia, all seeking to redeem the loss of things like natural rhythms of the agrarian lifestyle, now rendered obsolete by modernization. That most people can’t define “agrarian” doesn’t preclude the idea from animating their nostalgia. This is easiest to digest at little places like the churchyard, but it’s always there, even in places like Richmond’s Monument Avenue with its grandiosity and martial ferocity. It is always there. It is so pervasive that I often don’t feel or see it until moments like the one at Mathews Christ Church when it snaps into focus. I began to understand what some people mean when they talk about heritage. How terrible it is to think that the savagery of the Civil War—that the destruction of bodies, the clamoring for life amid the sickness, the dehydration, the suppurating wounds, and brutal amputations—was useless. The displayed flags are a way of redeeming or sanctifying the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of young men, of trying to recover from and instill meaning into inestimable loss. A quiet way of saying that the Old South—those lives, that way of life—was not destroyed in vain. And the Confederate Battle Flag plays a role in this drama. The flag is their second crucifix. Jesus died for our sins. At best, these men died for the sins of the South. 90

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But. But I’m a white man. From the American South. I was raised to sympathize with these ideas, ideas that I think are almost entirely unconnected to our actual history. How was I raised to be so easily manipulated into these fellow-feelings with the Confederate South? And why have white people throughout the nation from Michigan to California embraced the Confederate Flag? The Civil War is the defining feature of American history. This is general consensus. But what precisely does this mean? The Civil War was a violent rupture of our democracy and a terrible wasting of life, an open wound in history. But it is more than that. The Civil War is the defining feature of our history because its legacy still defines how the country, and the South in particular, views itself. I like to think that there is a distinct moral difference between being and acting stupid. Case in point, in my youth I adored the Confederacy. Not in any deeply disabling sense. I never joined any Neo-Confederate groups. But I did have some kind of investment with the iconography of the Confederacy. The memories are partial and spastic. When given the opportunity to choose sides—say when my friends played at war, which as often as not was playing at the Civil War—I always opted for the Confederacy. I recall rapturous engagement with The North and the South, an ABC miniseries descended directly from Gone with the Wind that ran from 1985 to 1986. Featuring Patrick Swayze, The North and the South followed the lives of West Point grads whose friendship suffered—surprise!—after the outbreak of the Civil War. You see, Swayze’s Orry Main hailed from 91

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a slave-owning Southern family, which his friend, a Yankee abolitionist, couldn’t abide. As you’d expect, in the end the friends are reconciled and both the cost and the cause of the war swiftly plowed under. Through it all I rooted for Orry. I loved, and I mean loved with a devotion that truly turned Sunday evenings into a high holy event, The Dukes of Hazard. This devotion was fueled in part by my still inchoate but primal lustiness toward Daisy Duke. But I also loved the bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger driven by the show’s protagonists, Bo and Luke Duke. Named the General Lee, the top of the Duke Boys’ car practically brayed Southern pride with its Battle Flag paint job. When I think back on this, part of it was the aesthetics of the stuff. Grey uniforms felt cooler to me. The South had style. The Battle Flag is a damn engaging design. I was also young, and the show’s idiotic depiction of late stage juvenile delinquency appealed to my couch-bound sense of hooliganism. And Daisy Duke. Deeper than that, however, were feelings that the Confederacy was the South, and that as a Southerner I needed to pay heed to the heritage. Actual history and asserted heritage were synonymous to me back then, which is common. “Notions of ‘heritage’ in American popular culture are richly revealing for anyone interested in the status of history and historical understanding in contemporary society,” writes Michael Kammen. “Heritage is virtually intended as an antidote to historical actuality.”3 I didn’t keep a journal then, and if I had I surely wouldn’t have been able to articulate these feelings, even if I had been aware of them. But those feelings still reverberate 92

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somewhere in my head, although I’m much more critical of them today. In the South, at least for a lot of the people that I know, these feelings are nurtured. They’re passed along, in my case inadvertently, by people like my father who on more than one occasion told me the story of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomotox. How Lee, dignified, clean, noble, and proud, slowly rode into the town on his prize horse Traveller only to be greeted by the slovenly, likely drunk, definitely dirty, Grant. This last part made an impression on my father. Despite their years of combat and the final bloody war of attrition, when Lee arrived to surrender, his uniform was clean, his boots shining. Grant, in my dad’s telling, wore mud-caked boots. There is no point to this story other than to relay some kind of message about the native honor of the Confederacy in the face of the craven, over-industrialized, larger Union. Think of that what you will at the moment, but I can tell you that my father is no apologist for the Confederacy, and he most decidedly does not believe in white supremacy or the notion of the primacy of states’ rights. This Grant and Lee story? It’s not my father’s. He was taught it. The notion that Lee was a dignified underdog? Or that his army was defeated solely because it was outnumbered and not because of tactical or strategic errors? That’s the Lost Cause. Despite its infiltration of Southern, if not national, culture, the Lost Cause is more known of than known. The Lost Cause is a constellation of ideas about the Civil War and the Southern way of life which sprang into existence even before the dueling armies laid down their weapons. As the dust settled, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice 93

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President Alexander Stephens, along with several of their Southern cronies, fashioned a specious, ahistorical origin story for the Civil War. As historian Alan T. Nolan succinctly summarizes, the Lost Cause “touching in almost all aspects of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war. Then it spread to the North and became a national phenomenon. In the popular mind, the Lost Cause represents the national memory of the Civil War, it has been substituted for the history of the war.”4 David Blight points out in Race and Reunion, the Lost Cause formed before the war’s conclusion, gained speed during Reconstruction, and was the de facto national memory of the war by the early decades of the twentieth century. The Lost Cause can be viewed as an aggresive aspect of Southern grief. The redemption story—and it is a mockChristian redemption story about how sons of the South died and will rise again—eased the way between comprehensive defeat and the rebirth of the region as the New South. In the realm of the Lost Cause, slavery played little to no role in the South’s secession from the Union. The war was solely about self-determination and different interpretations of the Constitution. Robert E. Lee was a saint and master tactician. The North failed to truly defeat the South. Rather, the Union overwhelmed the Confederacy with its superior numbers, ignoble modern culture, and its dedication to total war. These ideas found voice in textbooks, delivering this tenacious misinformation for generations. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben? Both are caricatures of happy, subservient African Americans, an article of faith for Lost Causers. The resentment of white Southerners. A distrust of authority and 94

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the Federal Government. The Dukes of Hazard. All tentacles of the Lost Cause. In the century and half since the Civil War, the Lost Cause has persisted and expanded into enduring cultural myth, a kind of founding legend for the South. In other words, the Lost Cause has become a simple, uncomplicated, and seemingly natural way with which people come to view history and the world. Or as Robert Penn Warren suggests, the ideas are so deeply embedded in the culture and our identity that we must labor to notice them. All of this history is condensed in Petty’s display of the flag during the performance of “Rebels,” whether he knows it or not and whether he admits his knowledge. Petty’s invocation of Union soldiers during “Rebels’ ” final verse, “I can still see the eyes of the blue-bellied devils,” wasn’t accidental. This enchantment with Lost Cause interpretations of history undergirds the entirety of the Southern Accents project, from disdain of Union soldiers to the reflex skepticism of outsiders and antipathy toward change. How could Petty who was not a scholar embed his work so deeply in the Lost Cause, a relatively complex sociological concept? How could he apply such sophistication from his position of relative ignorance? It’s no great mystery. He just had to be a normal white kid in the South. Old Joe, Gainesville’s Confederate monument, sat in the town square. Schools fought desegregation in his lifetime. The movies he saw bought into the myths of the Lost Cause. Petty would have needed to be an unusually strong person not to just absorb it. Think of it this way: you don’t have to put any work into 95

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knowing what Mickey Mouse is. Same with Jim Crow in the South or the conventions of the Lost Cause. It was the air Petty breathed. The Civil War was a a century and a half ago, but the continuity between the War, the Lost Cause, Jim Crow, and White Supremacy is glaringly obvious if you can get distance enough to focus. With Southern Accents Petty played, however inadvertently, with that continuity. The strength of my argument is this: the Lost Cause wasn’t one of fifteen or five or even two wrong but sophisticated theories Petty engaged with. It’s the only one. Why would this be the one? In his 2015 Rolling Stone interview, Petty said of the Flag, “I used it during [‘Rebels’], and I regretted it quickly. When we toured two years later, I noticed people in the audience wearing Confederate Flag bandanas and things like that. One night, someone threw one onstage. I stopped everything and gave a speech about it.”5 This is true, and I have no doubt about the sincerity of Petty’s regret for using Confederate iconography for marketing collateral. I do, however, think he’s not copping to the depth of his mistake, and it’s a troubling omission: the cover of the tour book for the 1981 Long After Dark American leg featured a photo of Petty superimposed over a different Battle Flag. For the record, Tench and Campbell think that using that Battle Flag was a mistake. “That’s probably the most embarrassing thing we ever did,” says Campbell. The wine red Les Paul still rests on his lap, but he’s momentarily stopped noodling. “One thing I love about Tom, and I’m really proud of my band, is we have integrity. All through the years, we had a lot of integrity. That’s the one spot where we really kind of missed it. If you 96

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look at what it stands for, really, it’s kind of ignorant. Guilty as charged. We were just being dumb at the time, and I am embarrassed about that.” Tench agrees with Campbell, that it was a stupid mistake. “Growing up I always heard that it was The War Between the States. It wasn’t the Civil War,” Tench says. “And I knew that there was slavery and everybody knew that, but you got the impression that it was fought because the Yankees were telling everybody what to do. Now, I wasn’t that alert or aware or paying that much attention or I probably would’ve called bullshit on it as a young person. Some people do. And even like, not the next full generation, but people that were ten years younger. REM called us out on the tour for this, for having a Confederate Flag behind us when we performed ‘Rebels.’ And I understand. I also understood that, for whatever reason, nobody in this band and none of my friends in the South ever had any Confederate Flag iconography [linked] with any thought of racism.” “We just didn’t see that flag,” Tench continues, moving from his friends in Gainesville to the Heartbreakers. “If any one of us had been uncomfortable enough to say, hey, how about this? But I don’t think it crossed anybody’s mind. We just thought here’s a record about the South, here this iconographic symbol of the South. If you’re going to do something about the South, it’s very striking. But that was the only intention. Nobody had any thought of it, which is on us that we didn’t think of it.” When the band performed “Rebels” in the later stages of its career, the song became a heartbreaker of a different sort. 97

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“Honey don’t walk out, I’m too drunk to follow,” Petty still sang, as he launched into “Rebels” nearly thirty years after the end of the Southern Accents tour. But things had changed. The world had changed. Petty had changed. And “Rebels” had changed. It was no longer a barn burner; the Heartbreakers shed the triumphalism. In simplifying the instrumentation to acoustic guitars the song’s nameless rebel seems fragile, if not injured. Attitude means a lot; tone literally sets the tone. Petty’s latter day performances of “Rebels” are illustrative of a few things. First, just as the song underwent a change, almost a molting of identity, so did Tom Petty in the aftermath of Southern Accents. But it also shows how despite much evidence to the contrary, we are not helplessly mired in our pasts. Yes, if we examine each discrete moment or bit of culture, we can trace its lineage back to the start of our lives, the start of the country, and maybe even the start of human history. The resonances go deep, the frequencies travel far. The past is present, but it doesn’t have to imprison us.

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Southern Accents received three phases of critical response. The press largely greeted the record on the terms Petty set when he was interviewed during his post-release press appearances. Critics often emphasized that the Heartbreakers had started to grow stale around the time of Long After Dark and that Southern Accents offered a critical, commercial, and artistic renaissance. What Petty was doing for the South was what Springsteen had done for New Jersey, if not the rest of the nation, but without destroying any of the mystique that halos the South in the public imagination. Reviewers invoked Petty’s Southern roots and deferred to his wisdom revealed in the album’s eclecticism. A few writers called out Southern Accents’ incoherence, quibbling over the inclusion of the Dave Stewart songs, but even these writers broke their backs to make sense of those songs within the context of the record’s Southernness. Others critics doubted Petty’s motivations—what’s a Rebel these days anyway? On balance, though, the first wave of critical response was positive. As singles “Make It Better” and “Rebels” performed well, but with the exception of “Don’t Come Around Here

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No More” which owed much of its immediate success to MTV, the record didn’t make a lasting impact with general listeners. Even that high point was tempered when “Don’t Come Around Here No More” lost the then-coveted 1985 MTV Video of the Year Award to, of all clips, Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” That had to smart. Considering the other competition was two David Lee Roth videos and the clip for “We Are the World,” it could’ve been worse. Any ambivalence toward Southern Accents was muted or dismissed later in 1985 when Petty released Pack Up the Plantation. Some of the same critics who panned It Ain’t Nothing to Me praised its performance on Plantation, blaming such soft spots in Southern Accents on the fact that the Heartbreakers were at root a live band. Critical estimations of Southern Accents changed after the release of 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). What had been heralded two years before as Petty’s return to his roots was in 1987 condemned as a schizophrenic muddle. Critics received Let Me Up as a return to form and the renaissance of one of the country’s great rock ’n’ roll bands. Of course, a band’s PR informs critical nonsense. At the time, Petty claimed that the record was the only one the band had been satisfied with at the time of its release. The critics may have bought that, but audiences didn’t agree; Let Me Up was the Heartbreakers’ least commercially successful record, and signaled the band’s fading popularity. “We played a lot of shows where they’d put a curtain up to hide the fact that there was only a two-third house,” Campbell once told Rolling Stone about the Let Me Up tour. “But we played like we had a full house and then worried about it when we got back to the hotel.”1 100

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I think much of Let Me Up is unlistenable. The album feels unmoored and often pointless, like a lonely guy in an expensive house, yelling at the moon. On the lead single, “Jammin’ Me,” cowritten with Bob Dylan, Petty reaches heights of grumpiness, taking stabs at has-beens-in-waiting like Joe Piscopo. The Heartbreakers wrote and recorded Let Me Up quickly, attempting to avoid a Southern Accents-esque studio quagmire, yet the record’s incoherence surpasses that of Southern Accents. The record lacks the attempt to locate itself in a place like the South and it fails to reclaim the swagger of classic Heartbreakers releases. Petty built his Southern experiment around a suite of powerful, if flawed, songs, but Let Me Up offers nothing but a war between different production styles. Despite Petty’s delusional assertion that “we were never influenced by the 80s,”2 overzealous 1980s’ production pulverizes even the good songs in this album. Let Me Up might excel as a document of 1980s’ excess, but it’s not a good record. My opinion isn’t an outlier. On the Greatest Hits collection, released in 1993, Let Me Up is the only record left unrepresented, despite “Jammin Me” having hit #1 on Billboard. Tench himself, after admitting that the 1980s were dark times for music, also admitted the band lost the plot in Let Me Up. The year 1989 inaugurated the final sustained reevaluation of Southern Accents. Following the release of Full Moon Fever, as well as to a lesser extent the Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, both Southern Accents and Let Me Up were lumped together, judged, and dismissed as symptoms of a mid-career crisis. General critical consensus viewed Full Moon Fever as mature Petty finally freed from the tyranny of youthful impulses. Petty had been on a quest, these reviewers implied, enduring 101

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a series of public failures in his search for himself. With Full Moon Fever, Petty’s Petty finally greeted the world, the critics intoned with near unanimity. The difference between Petty’s pre and post Full Moon Fever music and image is nearly absolute. This transition can’t be viewed strictly as an allergic response to Southern Accents. Still, the weakness of Southern Accents set the stage for the artistic and image adjustments of Full Moon Fever. The four years between 1985 and 1989 were abundant for Petty, and not everything that occurred during that period was good. Yet all of it would coalesce to inform his evolution into the Petty of Full Moon Fever. Most notably, in May 1987 an arsonist lit Petty’s house on fire while his family slept. Nobody was injured, but the blaze destroyed most of the family’s possessions. The attempted murder of you and your entire family has a way of changing your disposition toward life. As Petty told NPR’s Terry Gross, “I never really talked about [the fire] much because it stunned me so deeply. And I’m sure it had a great effect on the music I did because I came back with this very positive, happy kind of music that I didn’t want to go into any dark corner or anything like that.”3 Through much of 1986, Petty and the Heartbreakers supported Bob Dylan on his True Confessions world tour. During these shows, the Heartbreakers played opening sets, but for the balance of the night they were Dylan’s band. Playing with Dylan was both dream and nightmare. Dylan often calls audibles during his sets, asking his band to perform songs they’ve never rehearsed—or those they had in different keys or with a different feel—before tens of thousands of fans. 102

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Bracing, to say the least. Revelatory and muscle building, this stint of shows ushered in a new looseness and freedom for the Heartbreakers, a freedom they unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate into Let Me Up. In addition to Dylan, during this time Petty befriended George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. The first Traveling Wilburys album was released before but recorded after Full Moon Fever. Still, Petty credited his Wilburys experience with reacquainting him with his love of music. “After a lot of years and a lot of booze,” Petty told Rolling Stone, “I came to the conclusion that all I can do is try to amuse myself, really. To be honest, [the Wilburys] didn’t give a shit about how we were perceived by other people. That was nothing more than a bunch of guys making an honest attempt at making fun. Rock got so over-intellectualized for a while. The Wilburys just refused to take themselves seriously.”4 Petty also molted into the SoCal elder statesman of rock. The transformation in his image that had begun with Dave Stewart—Nudie suites, muttonchops sideburns, John Lennon glasses, and top hat—became more subtle and convincing. Whereas before Petty had been in LA but not entirely of LA, by the end of this period Petty was full-on Los Angeles, a representative image of Southern California. When Full Moon Fever appeared in April 1989, I was a fifteen-year-old idiot. These were the days when music was music video culture. Full Moon Fever’s videos dominated MTV’s rotation, and therefore consumed a not insignificant amount of my waking hours. The album’s first single was “I Won’t Back Down,” released simultaneously with the record, 103

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followed in July by “Running Down a Dream,” and then in late October “Free Fallin’.” (Full Moon Fever’s other singles, the doleful “A Face in the Crowd” and the wry “Yer So Bad,” made utterly no impression on me.) Given my devotion to MTV, it’s an impossibility, an actual and literal impossibility, that I’d never seen Tom Petty before the Full Moon Fever videos. Petty’s career straddled the sweet spot where the video star was a radio star. Since at least the dystopian road warrior arcade clip for “You Got Lucky,” Petty had set music video standards. It would feel like perjury to say that I missed the brilliant, creepy video of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” But I also think it’s understandable that I didn’t connect the Mad Hatter Petty—or the Mad Max Petty, for that matter—with the mid-tempo, middle-aged folkie strumming his way through the scenes of “I Won’t Back Down” or “Free Fallin’.” I encountered Tom Petty as a new (older) guy on the block. His omnipresence on my MTV had me wondering, where did this earnest old fellow come from? How does one start a career in 1989 as such a mid-tempo song writer? “I Won’t Back Down” was pretty low-concept for Full Moon Fever’s video crop, the anti-“Don’t Come Around Here No More.” In the video, Petty plays the song with a bunch of goofy older white dudes, all of them acting goofy and old. They seemed nice enough, but they were behaving like a bunch of uncles in the middle of their Thanksgiving drinking fit, what with the stupid dancing and their obvious self-regard. You know who the men in the video are, right? George Harrison. Ringo Starr. Jeff Lynne. Mike Campbell. It seems undeniable that Petty used the Full Moon Fever videos to redefine himself and his image. In hindsight, this 104

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is most apparent and most persuasive in the video for the biggest hit of Petty’s career. The “Free Fallin’” video was potent magic, powerful medicine. The Californianess of the video was almost jarring—the girl wearing the skater kneepads who seemed unable to skate, all of the LA street scenes, creepy Tom Petty floating over a pool party and hanging out at the mall like a pervert singing about a “good girl.” And whereas the imagery of 1980s’ videos, including Petty’s, didn’t always map perfectly onto the imagery of the lyrics, “Free Fallin’” quickly earned its SoCal video aesthetic. “It’s a long day/livin’ in Reseda/There’s a freeway running through the yard” and the later invocation of vampires in the Valley projected such languid Los Angeles ennui, that, even if you didn’t know precisely where Reseda was or what valley Petty was talking about, you knew he knew the place inside out and through to the bone. Petty the Californian became an MTV staple. My frail confusion didn’t survive into 1990. After several head scratching months I discovered that Petty wasn’t new to the scene. That, for instance, he’d written “Breakdown,” “Refugee,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” songs that were on the radio or my TV. But the aura, the image of Petty as an ultimate Californian projected in those videos remained. With those first few lines of “Free Fallin’” Petty situates himself firmly in the Southern Californian imaginary, as much or even more so than Southern Accents planted him down South. He asserts more of an LA vibe than in any work prior to Southern Accents, too. I take solace in knowing that many people, even Petty fans, share this confusion. When I tell people that Petty isn’t from California, that he’s from 105

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Florida, they’re puzzled. I’m talking casual fans, of course— people who love rock ’n’ roll but don’t mount ticket stubs on their walls. Southern California has generated almost as many myths about itself as the South, but of a different sort. The South is often seen as a land of heritage and continuity. Conservative in both politics and culture, the way of the South is slow transformation, if change is going to be accepted at all. Southern California is in many ways the anti-South. A nation so enthralled by the romance and myth of self-determination needs a geography as romantic and mythic. California has long fit the bill. Since at least the nineteenth-century Gold rush, the Golden State has offered itself as a terrain of radical opportunity—of wealth and reinvention. It’s in many ways the most American place when it comes to American wish fulfillment. Where the South is often wedded to tradition, the most abiding Southern Californian tradition is reinvention. It’s untethered from earlier concerns, and a world unto itself, both insulated and well known. A fitting setting for a record that was a radical departure from Petty’s previous work. Full Moon Fever approached perfection, for a mellow rock record. There’s warmth of spirit and a generosity infusing Full Moon Fever that’s absent in just about everything Petty released before then. A deep dive into the history and intricacies of Full Moon Fever must wait for another book. What’s certain is that the record played a long-sought role in Petty’s artistic self-evaluation. He once said that working on the record made him feel like he was “out on leave from the penitentiary.”5 106

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“Things got real phony-sounding for a while,” Petty once said about the music industry in the late 1980s, seemingly including himself. “It got to the point where even the guys in the denim jackets were sounding phony. I started thinking maybe I should just get drunk. Maybe I should just fucking forget all these songs.”6 “For Tom it was a reset button,” Tench told me about Full Moon Fever. “It was a palate cleaner for Tom and for Mike.” Even before Southern Accents, Petty was contemplating a solo record. For a brief moment it seemed that Southern Accents would actually be Petty’s first solo record, but then the band locked in. Full Moon Fever came about on a lark, with most of the Heartbreakers sidelined. Only Mike Campbell played an essential role on the record. “It gave them a window into another thing,” Tench continued, “it made them a whole new set of friends, which was really cool, it lead to the Wilburys thing, it got [them] close with George and Jeff and Roy. Just a brilliant reset.” Campbell agrees, “Here’s what I remember, we did the Let Me Up album, which I like a lot. But it wasn’t a commercial record. I remember Tom saying, I’m done, I’m done with the band, I don’t want to do this anymore after that record, for whatever reason,” Campbell told me. “And I remember saying, why man? Things are just starting to get good, you know?” As much as Petty’s reintroduction as a hip, middle-aged SoCal sage, Full Moon Fever’s music repudiates much of Southern Accents and, by extension, Let Me Up. The production values offer the most immediate dissimilarities between the records. With the exception of the title song 107

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and “Spike,” Southern Accents sounds clinical and digitized. Full Moon Fever presents a warmer, more organic sound palette. The instrumentation is also a radical departure from the previous ten years or so of Petty’s catalog. Gone is the reliance on the 1980s of course, but Full Moon Fever leans heavily on acoustic guitars, and the electric guitar tones are mellower. Lyrically Full Moon Fever kept up with some of the same preoccupations, but with more patience. “Free Fallin’” has its analogy in “Southern Accents.” Both rooted themselves in place, with Reseda taking the place of Orlando’s Orange Groves, and both ruminate on the domestic drama of youth. “I Won’t Back Down” is in many ways “Rebels” without the petulance; it perfects a cliché of a Southern song, without involving the pesky South. Of course, “Rebels” was a story song. Not only did Petty stop trying to tell that story, but on “I Won’t Back Down” he’s pretty clearly speaking for himself. This isn't to say that Petty totally avoided the South in his later years. An intimate return to the preoccupations of the South is most apparent on “Down South” from his later, third solo record, Highway Companion. “I’m not really sure who that character is,” Petty said of “Down South,” “but I’m—I know part of it’s me.” Again, in contrast to the protagonist of “Rebels” and “Dogs on the Run,” the “Down South” character feels more grounded and self-aware. There’s also something a bit forlorn and broken about the song, both in the writing and in Petty’s performance, that redeems it from Petty’s previous Southern missteps. Overall there’s a feeling of artistic satisfaction on Full Moon Fever that I find absent from almost every second

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of Southern Accents. The critics were right that Petty was out of the woods after some years of meandering. But the later record seems to be the deliberate obverse of Southern Accents. Full Moon Fever filled a hole left by Southern Accents. Petty even included “The Apartment Song” on the solo record, a track that by all sane interpretations should have been released on Southern Accents. I know that the years in between, the fire, the tutorials from Dylan, and the mess of Let Me Up, contributed to the transformation. But as they say, when people tell you who they are, listen. The most obvious way Full Moon Fever seems to be driven by a reaction to Southern Accents is on the surface. Petty plays better at being Californian, which isn’t to say that California doesn’t have crippling problems with its minority populations. The thing is, at a point all of this rock ’n’ roll stuff is a construction. It’s just that some constructions are built on rotten foundations. If Petty had created a more humane version of his Lost Cause Rebel on Southern Accents, it might’ve been okay. But if he could have created it better, it would be a better thing. In a Spin magazine profile in 1989, Petty said, “I love LA. I love Florida, but LA is home now.”7 As far as I could tell, this is the first press mention of Petty calling LA home. He then continues: “I dig this record so much that it’s hard for me to talk about it because I’ll sound so gushing and immodest. With the exception of Let Me Up, it seems we’ve tried too

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hard to make albums. Southern Accents and Long After Dark were very difficult projects, and though I like them, I think they’re pretty uneven records. Southern Accents has some good songs on it, like ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ is probably the best thing we’ve ever done, but as a complete album it’s not quite there. Full Moon Fever starts here, goes to there, ends here and that makes a satisfying record. You know, Full Moon Fever’s a very Los Angeles record.”

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The Best of Everything

For more than two centuries the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has played a pivotal role in both local African American life and the history of American race relations. Home to one of the longest standing African American congregations in the South, the church has borne witness to the full spectrum of American racial and social upheaval and transformation. A church cofounder was executed for planning a slave revolt. Over several tense decades in the 1800s the church met in secret, avoiding Charleston’s ban on all-black congregations. Mother Emanuel, as the church is sometimes known, has hosted speakers such as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a twentyone-year-old white supremacist terrorist, entered Mother Emanuel and slaughtered nine parishioners. Roof sat with his victims for an hour, participating in a bible study, and when the group began to pray, he pulled a Glock out of his fanny pack and began shooting. Most of the parishioners he didn’t kill were left wounded. Two played dead to avoid death. Before Roof left the church he told the person who

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he assumed to be the sole survivor, “we need someone to survive” to bear witness to his actions. Following his capture, Roof told authorities he had intended his murder spree to spark an American race war. Photos of Roof posing with the Battle Flag entered broad circulation soon after his act of terrorism, raising the volume of the debate about the persistence of Confederate symbols in the United States. As is often the case these days, national soul-searching soon gave way to factional acrimony and anger. To summarize quickly, the Charleston Church killing animated two vigorously opposed camps: those who believe that if something bears the stain of the Confederacy it deserves zero tolerance and those who believe that Confederate symbols should not be roundly condemned for the actions of racist fools who wrap themselves in the flag. Although the debate continues—with more emphasis being placed these days on Confederate monuments rather than the flag—the South Carolina legislature quickly voted to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from its prominent display area outside of the state house. Tom Petty was decidedly in the first camp in his later career. Petty had distanced himself from the Battle Flag in the years following the Southern Accents tour. He had both the images and footage of the band performing with the Battle Flag, including the entirety of the “Rebels” performance from Pack Up the Plantation, scrubbed from the internet. Petty had already denounced the Battle Flag onstage in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Still, the murders at Emanuel AME prompted Petty to speak up. In a Rolling Stone interview 112

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published a month after the massacre and conducted hours after the flag was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds in response to the killings, Petty went to great lengths to distance himself from the Battle Flag and to apologize for his use of it. This is the interview mentioned earlier in this book, the one where he talks about the Battle Flag being “the wallpaper of the South” and the South’s “logo.” Petty’s comments read as a terrifically sincere celebrity mea culpa. Why did Petty feel the need in 2015 to drag back into the light a twenty-fiveyear-old indiscretion? Who knows. People like to repent. They often don’t like to say why they are repenting, but they like the repentance. Not that this is a bad thing. Repentance should be encouraged when it doesn’t come at the price of exoneration, especially if it raises awareness. Such is the case with Petty’s public apology. He owns his error, and Petty goes beyond saying he was sorry. In the interview, Petty says, “That Southern pride gets transferred from generation to generation. I’m sure that a lot of people that applaud [the flag] don’t mean it in a racial way. But again, I have to give them, as I do myself, a ‘stupid’ mark. If you think a bit longer, there’s bad connotations to this. They might have it at the football game or whatever, but they also have it at Klan rallies. If that’s part of it in any way, it doesn’t belong, in any way, representing the United States of America.”1 After saying that he retains “good feelings” about the South and many southerners, Petty continues, “When they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it.”2 113

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These statements are important and instructive. Important to me because they help ensure Petty’s legacy as a person of integrity. It’s nice to know that something I want to believe also happens to be true. Instructive for the related reason that, in both the Rolling Stone interview and his earlier public repudiation of the Flag, Petty demonstrated qualities that are starting to feel at this moment in our history utterly un-American: not only did Petty look beyond his own circumstances, history, and heritage to read the world through the eyes of others, but he also admitted he was wrong about something. Empathy is in short supply these days. The willingness to point out and embrace one’s own mistakes is almost unheard of. Even if we qualify the diagnosis and point out that there are millions of people that strive for empathy or understanding, those voices are mere whispers in the maelstrom of what passes for civic discourse these days. Petty’s earlier disavowals still rankle some fans (check the comments on YouTube postings for “Rebels” and “Southern Accents”) and I’m certain that his 2015 comments further alienated that population. Despite that cost, Petty voluntarily resurrected a forgotten, three-decade-old error, copped to it, and tried to show how his mistake was part of the delusion a lot of Americans have bought into for over 150 years: that it’s somehow possible to adopt the “heritage” of the Confederacy without also cosigning the history of racism, oppression, and slavery. In every way that matters, that’s impossible. We seldom find ways to disagree charitably with people who do not share our values. Moreover, most of us find it hard to even attribute sincerity to the people we disagree 114

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with, as if the only possible reason they hold fast to certain views is because it gives heartburn to those they disagree with. There’s some merit to this. Social media and the like have deeply antagonized our always already fragile civic life. We should be able to find ways around this. Many people smarter than me have theorized how to do this, but I think the easiest way to understand our way out of this impasse is to focus on narrative. And for the most part one thing absent in the narrative of Battle Flag defenders is the experience of African Americans. From the African American perspective—and I say this lightly, being a white man—if you parade around the Battle Flag you are asserting in precise, alienating terms that you do not want to be a party to an inclusive society. To be clear: things do not have to symbolize hate to you for them to be hate-soaked and threatening for others. The fact that the previous statement may be greeted as itself a political statement shows how far from a refined sense of empathy we have. Not saying that it is easy. But an imaginative leap can help remedy such social shortcomings. Understand the limitations of a single narrative—a single America. It’s Petty’s final performance of “American Girl,” showing a promise, however imperfect or impartial, that we can raise ourselves on. We are obviously, each one of us, born into radically specific sets of circumstances, circumstances that are naturalized and that condition our understanding of the world. In some hands this would be called ideology. For a long time I didn’t know Petty’s career began in the 1970s or that he was a Floridian. For a long time I didn’t know what it meant to 115

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admire the Confederacy, other than what I’d been taught to feel. Same goes for Petty. Same goes for everyone, sometimes. As Mike Campbell and I are completing our interview, just before he takes me on a tour of his guitar hallway, I bring up the South again. Throughout our conversation, Campbell had been a bit coy about the South, so it’s no surprise when he seems to digress: “When we first signed with [Denny] Cordell, Tom was in a Dylan thing. And Tom was bugged about it cause he was so enamored of Dylan his writing and a lot of his phrasing was Dylan-esque, which he still has a lot of that in him. And I remember him talking to Cordell, saying ‘I can’t, I don’t want to sound like Dylan.’ And Cordell said, ‘Look, don’t worry about that. Do it. Just do it. As much as you can. Get it out of your system. And you’ll find yourself. Just don’t worry about that.’” After a brief pause to collect his thoughts, Campbell continues, “Maybe he thought same thing with the South. Just don’t worry about it. Just be yourself. Eventually yourself is going to come out. And that’s the true self, isn’t it?”

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Acknowledgments

I owe a debt to Tom Petty’s camp. Mary Klauzer arranged for me to meet with the Heartbreakers. Larry Jenkins sent along prerelease American Treasure tracks and liner notes. Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell were delightful, generous, and kind. It was a deep pleasure to discuss their lives and work with them. Thanks much to the wisdom and patience of the Bloomsbury Crew: Leah Babb-Rosenfeld, Michelle Chen, Katherine De Chant and Monica Sukumar. Just about everybody I know has endured a few Tom Petty-related outbursts since I embarked on this project, but a few folks endured more than anyone could rightfully request. This book would not exist without the support of my coconspirator and champion Amanda Petrusich, whose support for my idea has only been surpassed by her enthusiasm for the results. She’s a gem and model of just how it all should be done. Greg Downs improvised a version of the animating idea behind the book one night over drinks in a dark NYC bar. As with everything in our friendship before and since that night, his insights, intelligence, and good humor have both humbled and inspired. Joe Manning,

Acknowledgments

a good time buddy of long-standing and fellow befuddled son of the South, offered his thoughts every time I saw him, which was a lot. Jason Leahey not only read portions of this book before anyone else, but he offered me two weeks at Maribar, his writer’s colony on the Chesapeake Bay. Ted Bajek, Savannah Barrett, Tim Bishop, Adam Capitanio, Shannon Dunlap, Troy Floden, Daniel Geoghegan, Stephen George, Connor Goodwin, Lindsay Hatton, Patrick Hoerter, Jon Kelland, Lara Kelland, Jen Johnston, Teddy Johnston, Sara Ogger, Jon Pope, Laura Shine, Ed Walsh, Matt Zehnder, and so many others have found their way into these pages, surely in a capacity far less elegant than their actual contributions. You’ve all earned bourbons, many of them. My family helped create slack in the line more times than I can count. Dee and Greg Caudill listened to me rant and took my toddler for overnights. Likewise, my mom, Carolin Washburn, enthusiastically listened to me jabber on about the pains of writing all while watching my kiddo. She’s also responsible for my love of books. The two Vances—my father and my son—were born just shy of a century apart, but each in their way have served as inspiration and grounding for my thinking. Amy Lynn, what can I say that could possibly match the magnitude of the patience, support, devotion, and love you’ve shown me both during this project and in our life together? Each day feels like a blessing, and the only thing I cherish more than that time we have spent together is the time we have left. You’re the only one that’s ever known how to make me wanna live like I wanna live now.

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Notes

Introduction 1 George Brown Tindall, The Ethnic Southerners (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1976), 21.

Down South 1 Tom Petty Interview with Terry Gross. “Tom Petty: The Fresh Air Interview: NPR.” Fresh Air from WHYY. National Public Radio, October 3, 2017. https​://ww​w.npr​.org/​templ​ates/​trans​ cript​/tran​scrip​t.php​?stor​yId=5​55302​003 2 Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016), 33. 3 Paul Zollo, Conversations with Tom Petty (New York: Omnibus Press, 2005), 34. 4 Gary Graff, “Tom Petty’s New Tales of the Old South.” Creem, October 1985. 5 David Hinckley, “Tom Petty Doesn’t Forget Southern Roots.” Ocala Star-Banner, July 19, 1987. Accessed via The Petty Archives, March 15, 2018. https​://ww​w.the​petty​archi​ves.c​om/ar​ chive​s/new​spape​rs/19​80s/1​987-0​7-19-​ocala​starb​anner​

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  6 Graff, “Tom Petty’s New Tales.”   7 Robert Hilburn, “Tom Petty Breaks Down 10 of His Songs, Including Big Hits and Obsure Gems.” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2002. Accessed September 1, 2018. http:​//www​.lati​ mes.c​om/en​terta​inmen​t/mus​ic/la​-et-m​s-tom​-pett​y-son​gs-ar​ chive​-2002​0315-​story​.html​   8 Zanes, Petty, 181.   9 Jonathan Taylor, “Tom Petty: Good Ol’ Boy Making Music.” Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1985. Accessed via the Petty Archives, March 15, 2018. https​://ww​w.the​petty​archi​ves.c​om/ar​ chive​s/new​spape​rs/19​80s/1​985-0​6-22-​chica​gotri​bune 10 Graff, “Tom Petty’s New Tales.” 11 Howard Zinn, The Southern Mystique (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967). 12 Zollo, Conversations, 87. 13 Zanes, Petty, 188. 14 Graff, “Tom Petty’s New Tales.”

Who Did You Expect to Meet?   1 Zanes, Petty, 181.   2 Robert Hilburn, “Tom Petty Shakes Doldrums, Rocks On.” Pittsburgh Press, June 20, 1987, F1.  3 American Treasure prerelease liner notes provided to the author by Larry Jenkins.   4 Ibid.   5 Ibid.   6 Zanes, Petty, 185. 120

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7 Hilburn, “Tom Petty Shakes Doldrums.” 8 Zollo, Conversations, 226. 9 Hilburn, “Tom Petty Shakes Doldrums.”

Southern Accents 1 Bud Scoppa, “Tom Petty: The Agony and the Ecstasy of an Obsessive Rock Artist.” Red Bank Daily Register (NJ), August 18, 1985, 5. 2 Nick Thomas, Tom Petty: An American Rock and Roll Story (Green, OH: Guardian Express Media, 2014), 123. 3 Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1991), 618. 4 W. Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2005), 2. 5 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Southern Accents, directed by Richard Shenkman (1985; MTV Networks, Inc). Retrieved from YouTube, November 20, 2017. https​://ww​w.you​tube.​com/ w​atch?​v=y23​quIel​nzw

Rebels 1 Christopher R. Weingartetn et al., “Tom Petty’s 50 Greatest Songs.” Rolling Stone, October 2, 2017. Accessed April 5, 2018. https​://ww​w.rol​lings​tone.​com/m​usic/​music​-list​s/tom​-pett​ys-50​ -grea​test-​songs​-1978​07/fr​ee-fa​llin-​19791​5/ 121

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2 Graff, “Tom Petty’s New Tales.” 3 Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night (New York: Dell, 1961), v. 4 Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (New York: Plume, 2015), 98. 5 Marty Racine, “Petty, Cool Customer of Rock, Warms up for Summit Stand.” Houston Chronicle, July 8, 1985. Accessed via The Petty Archives, March 15, 2018. https​://ww​w.the​petty​archi​ ves.c​om/ar​chive​s/new​spape​rs/19​80s/1​985-0​7-08-​houst​onchr​ onicl​e 6 Bill Forman, “R.E.M.’s Song of the South.” Washington Post, November 9, 1986. Accessed November 5, 2017. https​://ww​ w.was​hingt​onpos​t.com​/arch​ive/l​ifest​yle/s​tyle/​1986/​11/09​/rems​ -song​-of-t​he-so​uth/1​fe0b1​95-62​fc-4d​41-8f​96-93​b0a88​9e541​ /?utm​_term​=.56c​d37ab​be21 7 Nelson George, “Petty Gets Flagged for ‘Plantation’ Mentality.” Billboard, May 10, 1986. Accessed via The Petty Archives, March 15, 2018. https​://ww​w.the​petty​archi​ves.c​om/ar​chive​s/ mag​azine​s/198​0s/19​86-05​-10-b​illbo​ard 8 Andy Greene, “Tom Petty on Past Confederate Flag Use: ‘It Was Downright Stupid’.” Rolling Stone, July 14, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2018. https​://ww​w.rol​lings​tone.​com/p​oliti​cs/po​ litic​s-new​s/tom​-pett​y-on-​past-​confe​derat​e-fla​g-use​-it-w​as-do​ wnrig​ht-st​upid-​17761​9/

Born in the CSA 1 Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War (New York: Random House, 1961), 4. 2 Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War, 77.

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3 Kammen, Mystic Chords, 621, 625. 4 Alan T. Nolan, “The Anatomy of the Myth.” In The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, ed. Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 12. 5 Green, “Tom Petty on Past Confederate Flag Use.”

Free Fallin’ 1 David Wild, “Over the Hump.” Rolling Stone, August 8, 1991. 2 Zollo, Conversations, 92. 3 Tom Petty Interview with Terry Gross. 4 Wild, “Over the Hump.” 5 Dave Zimmer, “Once in a Full Moon.” BAM, May 5, 1989. 6 Wild, “Over the Hump.” 7 Michael Corcoran, “Raised on Promises.” Spin, August 1989.

The Best of Everything 1 Green, “Tom Petty on Past Confederate Flag Use.” 2 Ibid.

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Also available in the series

1. Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes 2. Love’s Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans 3. Neil Young’s Harvest by Sam Inglis 4. The Kinks’ The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller 5. The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder by Joe Pernice 6. Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by John Cavanagh 7. ABBA’s ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits by Elisabeth Vincentelli 8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland by John Perry 9. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures by Chris Ott 10. Prince’s Sign “☮” the Times by Michaelangelo Matos 11. The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico by Joe Harvard

12. The Beatles’ Let It Be by Steve Matteo 13. James Brown’s Live at the Apollo by Douglas Wolk 14. Jethro Tull’s Aqualung by Allan Moore 15. Radiohead’s OK Computer by Dai Griffiths 16. The Replacements’ Let It Be by Colin Meloy 17. Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV by Erik Davis 18. The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. by Bill Janovitz 19. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli 20. Ramones’ Ramones by Nicholas Rombes 21. Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces by Franklin Bruno 22. R.E.M.’s Murmur by J. Niimi 23. Jeff Buckley’s Grace by Daphne Brooks 24. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. by Eliot Wilder

ALSO AVAIL ABLE IN THE SERIES

25. MC5’s Kick Out the Jams by Don McLeese 26. David Bowie’s Low by Hugo Wilcken 27. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. by Geoffrey Himes 28. The Band’s Music from Big Pink by John Niven 29. Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Kim Cooper 30. Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique by Dan Le Roy 31. Pixies’ Doolittle by Ben Sisario 32. Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On by Miles Marshall Lewis 33. The Stone Roses’ The Stone Roses by Alex Green 34. Nirvana’s In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar 35. Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited by Mark Polizzotti 36. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless by Mike McGonigal 37. The Who’s The Who Sell Out by John Dougan 38. Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand by Marc Woodworth 39. Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation by Matthew Stearns 40. Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark by Sean Nelson 41. Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II by Eric Weisbard

42. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life by Zeth Lundy 43. The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck 44. Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica by Kevin Courrier 45. Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime by Michael T. Fournier 46. Steely Dan’s Aja by Don Breithaupt 47. A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm by Shawn Taylor 48. PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me by Kate Schatz 49. U2’s Achtung Baby by Stephen Catanzarite 50. Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister by Scott Plagenhoef 51. Nick Drake’s Pink Moon by Amanda Petrusich 52. Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson 53. Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones by David Smay 54. Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel 55. Patti Smith’s Horses by Philip Shaw 56. Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality by John Darnielle

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ALSO AVAIL ABLE IN THE SERIES

57. Slayer’s Reign in Blood by D.X. Ferris 58. Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights by Hayden Childs 59. The Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen by Bob Gendron 60. The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash by Jeffery T. Roesgen 61. The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin by Bob Proehl 62. Wire’s Pink Flag by Wilson Neate 63. Elliott Smith’s XO by Mathew Lemay 64. Nas’ Illmatic by Matthew Gasteier 65. Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton 66. Madness’ One Step Beyond… by Terry Edwards 67. Brian Eno’s Another Green World by Geeta Dayal 68. The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka by Mark Richardson 69. The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs by LD Beghtol 70. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Facing Future by Dan Kois 71. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Christopher R. Weingarten 72. Pavement’s Wowee Zowee by Bryan Charles

73. AC/DC’s Highway to Hell by Joe Bonomo 74. Van Dyke Parks’s Song Cycle by Richard Henderson 75. Slint’s Spiderland by Scott Tennent 76. Radiohead’s Kid A by Marvin Lin 77. Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk by Rob Trucks 78. Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine by Daphne Carr 79. Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese by Hank Shteamer 80. Johnny Cash’s American Recordings by Tony Tost 81. The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls by Cyrus Patell 82. Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me by Nick Attfield 83. Television’s Marquee Moon by Bryan Waterman 84. Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace by Aaron Cohen 85. Portishead’s Dummy by RJ Wheaton 86. Talking Heads’ Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem 87. Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson by Darran Anderson 88. They Might Be Giants’ Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer 89. Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet by Phillip Crandall

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ALSO AVAIL ABLE IN THE SERIES

90. Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Marc Weidenbaum 91. Gang of Four’s Entertainment by Kevin J.H. Dettmar 92. Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation by Pete Astor 93. J Dilla’s Donuts by Jordan Ferguson 94. The Beach Boys’ Smile by Luis Sanchez 95. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven 96. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville by Gina Arnold 97. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kirk Walker Graves 98. Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album by Charles Fairchild 99. Sigur Rós’s () by Ethan Hayden 100. Michael Jackson’s Dangerous by Susan Fast 101. Can’s Tago Mago by Alan Warner 102. Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe by Tara Murtha 103. Hole’s Live Through This by Anwen Crawford 104. Devo’s Freedom of Choice by Evie Nagy 105. Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Michael Stewart Foley

106. Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. by Andrew Schartmann 107. Beat Happening’s Beat Happening by Bryan C. Parker 108. Metallica’s Metallica by David Masciotra 109. Phish’s A Live One by Walter Holland 110. Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew by George Grella Jr. 111. Blondie’s Parallel Lines by Kembrew McLeod 112. Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead by Buzz Poole 113. New Kids On The Block’s Hangin’ Tough by Rebecca Wallwork 114. The Geto Boys’ The Geto Boys by Rolf Potts 115. Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out by Jovana Babovic 116. LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver by Ryan Leas 117. Donny Hathaway’s Donny Hathaway Live by Emily J. Lordi 118. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy by Paula Mejia 119. The Modern Lovers’ The Modern Lovers by Sean L. Maloney 120. Angelo Badalamenti’s Soundtrack from Twin Peaks by Clare Nina Norelli

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ALSO AVAIL ABLE IN THE SERIES

121. Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth by Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero 122. The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde by Andrew Barker 123. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs by Eric Eidelstein 124. Bob Mould’s Workbook by Walter Biggins and Daniel Couch 125. Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night by Patrick Rivers and Will Fulton 126. The Raincoats’ The Raincoats by Jenn Pelly 127. Björk’s Homogenic by Emily Mackay 128. Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee by Rachel Lee Rubin

129. Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker by Joe Gross 130. Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy by Ronen Givony 131. Lou Reed’s Transformer by Ezra Furman 132. Drive-By Truckers’ Southern Rock Opera by Rien Fertel 133. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow by Samantha Bennett 134. dc Talk’s Jesus Freak by Will Stockton and D. Gilson 135. Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele by Amy Gentry 136. Odetta’s One Grain of Sand by Matthew Frye Jacobson 137. Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible by David Evans 138. The Shangri-Las’ Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las by Ada Wolin

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