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"Call Me A Punk & I'll Cut You..."
By Tom Harrison
Georgia Straight -- June 9-22, 1978

Tom Petty succeeds in spite of everybody.
Tom Petty is resolute. He will not pose for photographs; he will not be drawn into badmouthing the heavy metal kings his Heartbreakers are supposed to be unseating; he won't let the media peg him.

The media have got him -- or they think they've got him -- for twelve hours of seperate interviews, a full day's work in Vancouver, and Petty has resigned himself to the barrage of leading questions and misconceptions he is getting used to confronting.

Elvis Costello to the contrary, Tom Petty is this year's model, and he intends to stick around. He's taken him ten of his twenty-five years to get where he is now and he's still only building up steam.

Just over two years ago Petty was in a band called Mudcrutch, which was on its way West from Florida to make a record. The group disbanded but Petty made a solo lp. anyway even though he didn't like its empty Los Angeles gloss and prevented its release. Denny Cordell's Oklahoma based Shelter Records signed Petty who formed the Heartbreakers with Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from Mudcrutch and Stan Lynch and Ron Blair with whom Petty had also played. In 12 days the Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers album was completed though it went unnoticed for nearly a year. Critics generally loved Petty's sparse, vital rock and roll but the (since discharged) staff of ABC records who distributed Shelter mistook Petty for a punk rocker and mishandled the lp.

A much publicized tour of England where Petty was heralded as some kind of a new Messiah, a year on the road, and 'Breakdown' in the charts has brought about a turnaround. A second album, You're Gonna Get It, is out now; The Heartbreakers are on the road again. 

The matter of the photographs. It's no big deal, really, but Petty hates posing for them. He flatly refuses to make like a statue for photographers, which is in keeping with his philosophy that "rock and roll is honesty." Posing is posing is artificial.

Badmouthing the bombastic biggies is right now. Petty doesn't like their mindless bluster and thunder, but his band is still an opening act in some territories and he's gotta work with them. He's no fool and he won't become notorious by chopping them up in public. It's cheap, and more important are The Heartbreakers are the music he's committed himself to making. It's a deep commitment.

Ever since the first lp Tom Petty resolutely has fought off being bunched in with the new wave -- he came to Shelter Records where there was no such term - and one of his most printworthy remarks is a simple threat, "Call me a punk and I'll cut you." He doesn't like it. He doesn't like the term and he recognizes its pitsfalls and traps.

Me, I speak admiringly of him as a crusader, though I know that he'd object strenously to the very suggestion. He has opinions and is outspoken, sure, but that's only because he's been asked for an opinion and he's intelligent enough to express himself articulately. His only crusade is for The Heartbreakers and their brand is classic rock and roll, but it's a crusade that others -- Costello, Dwight Twilley, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe -- are also on. It's become a movement.

"If you want to look at it historically," Petty begins, "there was all this rock and roll in the fifties which began to die until The Beatles came along and introduced more inventive songwriting. For a while rock and roll songs really emphasized composition more than anything else. Guys like Jimi Hendrix came along and completely changed that around. He did these things with his guitar and suddenly everybody wanted to be like him. The important thing was to be able to do these things that he could do, and so you've got everybody learning to play before they know how to write.

"A lot of the bands performing today are just lazy and have no imagination. They won't take the time to write a good song because it's more convinient to do it the other way. I find it boring to watch a guitar player get so into himself that he goes on for four minutes at a time. It's self indulgent."

Petty is more reserved than the articles that preceded him would indicate him to be. His voice is deep and he speaks in quiet, measured tones between draws on his cigarette. Occasionally, he puts one hand up to his cheek to brush away a strand of his blonde hair. He is attractive enough for rock and roll, the way Brian Jones was, and if you note the photo of the band on the inside album liner it might remind you of the Stones grouped together for the Between The Buttons album cover.

"Yeah?" exclaims Petty. "I never noticed that before. Maybe that's why I like that picture so much." 

 Petty became a rock and roller when he traded a friend for some Elvis 45s and he recognized what rock and roll was all about -- girls screaming, the excitement -- when he saw Presley on television. In concert he can draw that same kind of response, but at 14 he was just like any other kid who ever wanted to be like a Beatle, Byrd, or Rolling Stone. Their decade figures strongly in his work but Petty is tired of his singing being compared to Jagger and especially Roger McGuinn.

"Yeah, I'm tired of it; it's not as if I consciously try to sing like them. Maybe I did more than I do now. Each song suggests it's own voice."

But Petty is an admirer of McGuinn who recorded the Heartbreakers' 'American Girl', called him up, and invited him over to his house. Later he and Petty sang the song together in concert.

"What's McGuinn like? He's one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I don't know of anyone else who will turn to me and say, 'do you want to see the plans to my new robot?' He'll go away and come back with a complete blueprint for a working robot, and he'll lay it out and explain how everything works."

Petty's concern is not to return to the 60s; he just wants to bring back thoughtful, compelling rock. He wants to be among the best of the new rock and roll bands that will belong to the upcoming generation.

"For too long the kids have had to listen to rock music handed down to them by their older brothers and sisters. They've never had any rock and roll bands they could call their own.

"Radio is partly responsible for that. Radio is robbing kids of their culture. Traditionally radio is an essential medium of rock and roll but these days radio is trying to play music for the grandson and the grandpa at the same time. I say screw grandpa." 

 You're Gonna Get It reflects a year's growth for The Heartbreakers. They were still getting the feel of playing as a band during the recording of the first album and as a result Petty's voices and the bare bones of his songs dominate. You only begin to appreciate The Heartbreakers after several listenings and only then do you realize that the lp was one of the great (overlooked) lps of 1976. On the new lp Tom Petty is one of The Heartbreakers. The impact of songs such as 'Magnolia', 'I Need To Know', 'Baby's A Rock And Roller', or the title track is much more immediate; they hit harder the way five men would instead of one. It's the way Petty wants it.

"I can't tell you what a rock and roll attitude is, though I think I have one. I can't define it for you, though I think I understand it.

"When I write I can't say something I don't really feel. I really have to feel it and the riff or the lyric or the phrasing has to fit. It all has to fit together and it has to be simple so it is direct and retains its conviction.

"I can sing a song like 'Fooled Again' with conviction because I know what that lyric is about and why I wrote it. It will never lose its edge for me because I know how I felt when I wrote that lyric and when I sing it I still feel it. I just couldn't do it any other way. That would be dishonest to me and one thing rock and roll has always had going for it is its honesty. That's what rock and roll is -- honesty -- and I have to tell the truth."