Every time I hear somebody utter the hated phrase Rock is dead, I shake my head, sometimes my fist, and say, sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud, Not in my house. Not in my heart.
So when my music-loving sis Sandra Bialdez from the forever-adored West Coast blog Square One Notes (not her real name of course but we have fun with the imagined familiar relationship) asked in an email if I’d ever caught the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream, I sheepishly had to reply no.
Sandra enthused that I could catch it on Netflix.
Good call, Sis.
Peter Bogdanovich, biography-maker of note, carefully compiled this four-hour chronicle of the rock guy who emerged from Gainesville, Fla., and became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s a great watch. For the music — some of the best rock ‘n’ roll America gave the world — and the deep Petty story and the chance to think back and recall your personal connection to this deep thinker and these nuggets of joy and angst and reflections of real life.
Petty started off in a band by the name of Mudcrutch. I didn’t recall.
Some of his songs already had the lyrics and form that we’d recognize later when the records would read Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Oh, fear not, for Bogdanovich will explain how that change came about as he charts the life of the centerpiece of the band by deep interviews with Petty and his band mates over the decades as well as family members and others in the music business.
Petty appears at ease spilling the beans to the camera.
Why didn’t I get the sound while I was in college here in New York in the ’70s, I lamented, knowing I was one of the latecomers to the Heartbreakers’ thrilling, swampy vibe but certainly among many.
Hey, I recalled, the makers of Fast Times at Ridgemont High were so smart to use Petty’s American Girl in that Jennifer Jason Leigh coming-of-age scene, as that one played.
Geez, I wish I had saved my interview with guitarist Mike Campbell that ran in August 1991, one of the first pieces in my tenure as music writer for the big daily when the Heartbreakers happened to play at the Onondaga County War Memorial. I remember the concert, the sound of the band and even Campbell’s voice far more than I do anything about what I wrote in the paper that quarter century ago.
Damn, this guy is respected, I thought.
Stevie Nicks would have joined the Heartbreakers if asked. But Petty didn’t want her in the band!
George Harrison loved him. Ringo Starr sat in on drums for him. Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan joined a Supergroup with him. And the Traveling Wilburys were tremendous.
The impetus behind the filming was a 30th anniversary concert in 2006 in Petty’s hometown, footage of which is in the film. The movie was released at the 2007 New York Film Festival. So it’s 10 years old. But, oh, it wears so well.
You can find it on Netflix now, so worth the click and four-hour watch.
Are you a fan of rock ‘n’ roll documentaries? What’s your favorite Tom Petty song, and why? Who do you prefer more, and why: Petty, Dylan, Orbison, Lynne or the Traveling Wilburys?