Saturday, March 21, 2009

Running With Tom Petty

By David Luhrssen
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Peter Bogdanovich was part of a generation of 1960s film critics who brought serious analysis to the products of old Hollywood. Soon enough he became a filmmaker, and although he felt at odds with the early ‘70s generation of Hollywood mavericks, he made some of the decade’s great movies with The Last Picture Show (1971) and Paper Moon (1973).

The last years have not been busy for Bogdanovich. One doesn’t necessarily associate him with rock’n’roll, but he did a fine job directing Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2007), a concert film and band biography that captures in its interviews a sense of possibility that seems impossible nowadays. In 1974 when Petty and band drove out to LA with a reel-reel demo, they immediately received contract offers and significant money. Society was an open frontier and the entertainment industry was listening.

In the 21st century an unknown young talent like Petty was then could aspire to cult status through the worldwide web. Stardom would probably elude him, as would making a living as a musician. No matter. Petty surfaced at the right moment and survived. He never took rock down a new road or embodied a particular sociopolitical stand or became the special voice of a generation. What he did was maybe more remarkable: writing a growing body of songs that kept certain traditions alive in familiar settings (like Bogdanovich’s movies and old Hollywood?) and accepted the music’s rebelliousness as a set of genre conventions.

Runnin’ also reveals Petty as likable, engaging and approachable, a refreshing change from the nonentities, nitwit celebrities and self-important artistes infesting today’s world. You wouldn’t mind having lunch with this man, and maybe he’d enjoy meeting you as well.

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