I had planned to post reviews of books I'd read on this blog -- and have been doing a piss-poor job of it -- but today I saw a show on TV that ripped me out of my world of books and made me want to jump back in my second life -- when I was a slugabed bar musician. I had recorded it on my DVR yesterday and started watching it this morning, thinking I could see it all before I went for a free lunch at the hospital, a seminar about sudden heart attacks. The show was a documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers called RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM.
It was terrific. But after two hours the show had only progressed from 1973, when the band formed, to about 1980. I was thinking the show must only be about the early years. Then I noticed that the show was four hours long! Wow! A fantastic show about a super band and the damn thing is four hours long! This is a class production all the way. So I watched the last two hours of the show toight.
I've liked every song I've ever heard by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but I've only really heard two or three of the albums. It wasn't like with the Beatles, where I know practically ALL of the songs, words and chords. But after seeing the documentary I can see that I want to hear all of their songs. Why? Because that band is almost an exact replica of what my bands were like back in the 60s and 80s -- except on a MUCH grander scale. I guess I should say my bands were like Tom Petty's, except on a MUCH smaller scale.
Which was probably good. I've never been ambitious and being in an always-working band in town was always the extent of what I wanted out of music. I mainly didn't want a day job -- and never had one until 1987 when I turned 40 and my body insisted that my brain take over for a while. But even though we were in a different league I found Tom and his band eminently inspiring. They were a band that wanted fame and fortune and girls and dope and to meet the Beatles but they had to do it honestly -- even if it meant they wouldn't get to meet the Beatles. They played short songs with original but straightforward lyrics and music. They knew that surfin' music and rockabilly was the basis of guitar rock -- not the blues -- and weren't afraid to let the guitar harmonics ring out. They didn't feel they had to go back before Buddy Holly and the Byrds for their lyrics and sound.
They were exactly of my age and they played like my bands wanted to play. I just didn't know it at the time. With this documentary I see that we could have been a lot better if we'd listened to more Tom Petty back when I was playing five hours a night, six nights a week in the bars.
There aren't many rock shows I like these days -- at least among the ones shown on IFC or Sundance Channel -- but RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM makes up for it. Only THE LAST WALTZ comes close to it for showing great musicians playing their classic songs. And telling the story of a band that knew how a guitar band was supposed to live and play.