Learning To Fly

“That was inspired by the Gulf War. I remember that line about the rocks melting and the sea burning being directly inspired by seeing this whole thing on TV.”Tom Petty (457)


“I wrote it for Stevie Nicks [for her to record – Ed] with her in mind. But I ended up keeping it for myself because I liked it so much.”Tom Petty (458)

American Girl

“The ‘American Girl’ is just one example of this character I write about a lot – the small-town kid who knows there’s more out there for them but gets fucked up trying to find it. Like the song says, she was raised on promises. I’ve always felt sympathetic towards her.”Tom Petty (770)
“[A song Petty wrote in a tiny apartment in Encino – Ed]. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. This song marked the start of me writing about people who are longing for something else in life and are determined to get it.”Tom Petty (771)

Something Big

“And this business – it’s like ‘Something Big’, it’s like one of those seedy businesses where there’s always some person where you can see no visible credentials, right? This guy has nothing together and he always has some big project. In Florida it was always like some guy who had a big dope deal or some guy who was gonna start a rock band and make millions or some guy that was gonna open a bar and, y’know, there was always some kinda seedy thing. Always the big thing was how do we get up that first payment? Inevitably some adventure comes down about how you’re gonna raise this money real quick. That was just kinda the idea for it. I fucked around with it a little.”Tom Petty (772)

The Criminal Kind

“I mean I hate to look like a moralist but it’s just living here and watching the news every night is just like starting to bother me, you know, starting to bother me, and I would see the news and it’s like there’s so many people killed every day…these gangs and stuff, their one big pastime is to get a pistol, right, and to go around and pick people off street corners from their car window. They shoot kids or…a two year old kid shot in the chest with a shotgun by his six year old brother, or somethin’ like that, and I just keep seein’ this. Well, you see the poverty creates a lot of it, then on the other hand you see the general loons that have everything in the world and are still blowin’ each other away. The way the song came about was actually from seein’ this Vietnam veteran, he died the other day, who drove his jeep through the front door of the veterans hospital, saying ‘I’m dyin’ from Agent Orange, I’m crazy and I’m tryin’ to tell you’ – and they wouldn’t treat the guy or somethin’. And he killed himself. I was on the road somewhere and we were stopped in the freeway traffic, and I looked out the window, and sittin’ next to me in this kind of fucked up old Ford was this guy. And you could just look at this guy’s face and you could tell that this guy is trouble. And then I noticed that round his mirror he had his Army dog tags, like they hang dice. I would have bet money he was a Killer, y’know, and it just stuck with me and we did that one tune. I just thought it fit the album, that we should get into that for a second.”Tom Petty (772)


“‘The Night Watchman’ actually started as a joke on the whole thing of security. I have a guard on my house now, a guy who sits outside the door and keeps people back. So I wrote a song for him. It got so amusing to me. “You mean, there’s gonna be a GUY outside the DOOR – all the time?” I went as long as I could without doing it. For a long time, I just said, “No, I will NOT do that.” And then it got where, yeah, I’m gonna do it now, because I don’t want people standing in the middle of my living room. And worse. Are you really gonna stand there and shoot it out with these guys for whatever it is – $4.50 an hour? We have some great talks, all huddled together.”Tom Petty (773)

Two Gunslingers

“[An allusion to the Gulf War? – Ed] Probably. I started the record, war broke out, and then I had the luxury of the war ending very quickly and seeing a bit of the aftermath. You couldn’t help being influenced by all that. But ‘Two Gunslingers’ is also how one person can take control of their own life, and how that has repercussions down the line, if you sorta think for yourself rather than having CNN for a brain, like a lot of Americans do now. It’s sort of become the brainwave of a nation.”Tom Petty (774)

The ‘Greed Trilogy’: All Or Nothing, For All The Wrong Reasons and Too Good To Be True

“We had a real exercise in greed by the end of the ‘80s. We’re all paying for it now. I looked at that administration as a sort of unlimited credit card. Suddenly the bills come in. But it’s more the decline of honesty, the decline of moral fibre in this country, that troubles me. I do sort of believe that you reap what you sow. There was a probably a time when the bandits drew a line at robbing an elderly couple of their home and life savings. Now, I don’t think they draw that line.”Tom Petty (774)

Mary Jane’s Last Dance

“‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ is the same girl [as in American Girl – Ed] with a few more hard knocks.”Tom Petty (775)
“I don’t think I was writing about pot. I think it was just a girl’s name.”Tom Petty (1039)

Down South

“[The South – Ed], it’s a very romantic place, but it’s also a spooky place. You’d think a lot of ghosts still linger down there. I’d written about the South years ago. And I wondered, ‘What would I write now? Now that I’ve been gone so long?’ Then I got my head into thinking about what if I went back? What would be my impressions?”Tom Petty (1306)

The Last DJ (The Album)

“‘The Last DJ’ was really about losing our moral compass, our moral centre. We don’t really care who gets hurt anymore as long as we make some money. Everything was being pushed aside in that quest for the dollar. That was what it was trying to say. I was really criticized for making that record to talk about the music business this way: where had I been, under a rock? People didn’t really understand it. I think my mistake was hanging so much of it on the music business. I just knew it the best so it was the easiest thing to write about. Slamming the music business didn’t need to be done; it was obvious. I used it to tell these stories. It was a shame, it was a good album, a lot of good stuff on it. But I’m glad I did it now. I was vindicated years later; I was right. Highway Companion is maybe the same story but with a happy ending, haha.”Tom Petty (775)
Tom Petty Album Cover