Tag Archives: Tom Petty

Folklore Is Found in the Threads of Despair

…Driving in to Darlington County
Me and Wayne were quarantining since the Fourth of July
Driving in to Darlington County
Looking for any kinda work on the county line
We drove down from New York City
Where the pretty girls wearing’ masks just want to know your COVID history
Driving in to Darlington County
Got a connection for free testing with an uncle of Wayne’s
We drove 800 miles without seeing a temperature checkpoint
We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing…

The hard truths of our American COVID moment are many, maddening, and bitter. Cases spiraling upward and spiking daily in towns, cities, counties and states; a mortality rate in the hundreds of thousands; an economy in tatters and the average person isolated, masked, and desperately shifting their weight on uncertain ground. From barbecues to ballgames, fancy graduations to informal get togethers, the course of everyday life in America has careened off course into unknown territory. The numbers are scary, the danger is real, and the only thing anybody knows for sure is that nothing is for sure, and none of us will ever be the same again.

The fact of the virus as the arbiter of our new American reality is sobering enough. Its effect on our institutions of leisure, the games we watch and play, and the arts that we hold dear has been a bewildering leveling agent. Basketball? In a bubble. Baseball? Getting by, barely. Summer movie release schedules? Decimated. And music — for so many of us, the guiding factor throughout the year, but the brightest of lines in Summer, when traipsing around boffo music festivals, seeing sets outside at street fairs, and reveling in sweaty rock club moments form a kind of idyll — music is facing its own peril as both an economic system and an art form built from shared experience. What does music look like when it wears COVID’s scars?

…It’s a long day, locked down in Reseda
There’s a community testing site out in the front yard
I’m a bad boy, ‘cause I didn’t practice proper distancing
I’m a bad boy, for bringing it here…

On June 23rd, Taylor Swift surprised the world with the announcement of Folklore, her eighth studio album. The set was conceived of, written and recorded entirely in quarantine after the singer and songwriter’s plans for a tour in support of her 2019 record Lover were blown apart by the virus. For Swift, the pandemic’s altering effect on her business model offered a unique opportunity for creativity, one which lent a new intimacy and earthiness to her music, received critical appreciation for her stylistic and economic pivot, and netted positive returns in the all-important social media news cycle. The pandemic sucks, but people still love a surprise.

For the folklorists and musicians Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the pandemic hit as hard as an early March tornado that nearly destroyed their home base and recording studio in Nashville, Tenn. As performers and gigging musicians whose money is often made on the road, it was natural to drop a new set of demos for the heads (Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1) and use the lockdown to record the Americana covers set All The Good Times.

“Music has some things that only music can do in a time like this,” Rawlings explained to Rolling Stone. “With folk songs, every person has put a little bit of their DNA into what becomes the bloodstream of that song, and the culture and time period they came out of usually did also.”

“[Playing these songs] in a time of isolation and reflection, it’s almost like all those people are there.”

Exploring the spinal fluid of what makes a folk song live seems especially important in a period like this COVID journey, when our modes of living are realigning and sickness, death, and fear are in too high supply.

In the stark, melancholy and achingly emotive world he created for “Highway Patrolman” from 1982’s bleakly rewarding Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen tells a tale of two brothers torn by loyalties and a love triangle. “Me and Franky laughing and drinking, nothing feels better than blood on blood,” he sings. And the brothers take turns dancing with Maria, as the band plays “Night of the Johnstown Flood.” While no such folk song seems to exist, with the reference Springsteen alludes to a catastrophic 1889 dam failure just upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania that killed over 2,200 people and more than $17 million in damages, or nearly $500 million in 2020 money. The Johnstown Flood was the worst loss of civilian life in US history, a grim title it held until the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900 and, later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What will the coming folkloric record chronicle about this tragedy of our time, this unseen flood, and its even more profound toll in lives and destruction?

JTL

Not a Pleasant Subject

The passing of Tom Petty at age 66 of cardiac arrest earlier this week is certainly sad for those who listen to music as the man consistently worked with dedication and authenticity throughout what was a solid career.

Yet if we look at it in the context of his other Traveling Wilburys band mates, then it is disturbing to know that George Harrison was just 58 when he died of cancer and Roy Orbison was—and I must confess to being absolutely surprised by how low this number is—a mere 52 when he succumbed to a heart attack.

Jeff Lynne, 69, and Bob Dylan, 76, are still with us. But for them, as for us, the clock is ever clicking.

Without becoming macabre about the whole thing, there is a whole cadre of musicians from the ’60s and ’70s who are getting quite on in years and it won’t be long before there are many whose names will show up in alerts on the screens of our phones.

Jagger is 74. McCartney 75. Townshend 72. Jimmy Page 73. Brian Wilson 75.

And this list could go on longer than I would like to write.

This is going to happen.

Continue reading Not a Pleasant Subject

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - MojoTom Petty and the HeartbreakersMojo (Reprise)

Hot off the class-reunion jam of Mudcrutch, Tom Petty attempts to bring a similar sense of noodling over to the Heartbreakers. The most glaring question, considering the bands under-appreciated keep-it-simple-stupid approach on record and cole slaw grind on stage, is “Why?”

With that sense of “Let’s ring up the fellas and play guitar awhile” approach out of the picture with Mojo, Petty’s twelfth album with the Heartbreakers sounds like lazy meanderings and the most uninspired collection of songs in his otherwise impressive catalog.

Continue reading Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo

Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch

Mudcrutch - MudcrutchMudcrutchMudcrutch (Reprise)

Let’s be honest: Tom Petty has released innocuous records for nearly a quarter-century now and we’ve allowed him to do it. After battling his record company in 1981’s Hard Promises, the most vitriolic we’ve seen him is to urge us to “Take back Joe Piscopo” (“Jammin’ Me”) and “Roll another joint” (“You Don’t Know How It Feels”).

His attempt at trying to regain that image of a corporate monster fighter, 2002’s The Last DJ, fell short. It’s one thing to sing about evil corporations and how they’ve destroyed music, but to deliver that album on a major label (Warner Brothers) on one hand and then agree to perform the hits on the biggest corporate sponsored event on the planet (the Super Bowl) afterwards, it kind of deflates that everyman image you’re trying to present.

At the same time, Petty is a guy who’s hard to hold a grudge against. Even at his most complacent, he’s enjoyable. I won’t promise to buy anything that he’s done with Jeff Lynne, but I won’t hold Petty accountable for wanting to work with the over-produced bastard either.

Continue reading Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch

Traveling Wilburys Reissued

Traveling Wilburys Reborn With Rhino. Billboard: “After being out of print for more than a decade, the two studio albums from all-star band the Traveling Wilburys will return to the marketplace in a variety of formats June 12…”

Too bad they’re not releasing a remix that eradicates Jeff Lynne’s awful production…