On Friday, November 13th, Berklee College of Music presented "Petty: A Candid Interview with Warren Zanes Led by Bill Janovitz." If you love books, and if you love music, this was a singular evening. Zanes, the author of Petty: The Biography is the former bassist for Boston's own Del Fuegos and, more recently, Vice President at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Bill Janovitz is the author of two books on the Rolling Stones, including the recent Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell The Story Of The Rolling Stones and, of course, leader of local favorite Buffalo Tom. Surprisingly, they had not met before this, but proved to be able companions and guides through Tom Petty and his music.
In his introduction, Janovitz complimented the book, calling it "a thorough, breezy read, full of warmth and wit. It could only be a product of a guy who's been in a band." Zanes talked at length about Tom Petty — The Del Fuegos opened for him in 1987 — saying he "has a singular gift as a bandleader because if he does his job right, it will cause some resentment against him. They (the band) can't stomach some of his decisions, but those decision also guarantee the longevity and success of the band." That's good stuff.
He also called Petty "an artist who really captures longing. Anyone here feel they are NOT the 'American Girl'?" to which the room erupted in cheers, claps and laughter. Even the men in attendance got that one. And here's Zanes describing how he became Petty's official "unofficial" biographer. "Tom told me 'I don't tell you what's in. I don't tell you what's out, but I get to see it and respond, if necessary."
That led to one Zanes anecdote in the book that Petty disputed, where the band was in the legendary Whisky Au Go Go on their first trip to LA, with none other than Ringo Starr a booth or two away. Here's Zanes and Petty:
TP: "That's bullshit. We didn't have ANY money then."
WZ: "But it IS a good story..."
TP: (after a long pause ) "... I can see that."
The local audience lapped up a story involving original Heartbreakers' bassist Ron Blair, in town for a "Jesus Christ Superstar" gig, who ended up crashing at Steven Tyler and Aerosmith's place on Commonwealth Avenue...
Blair: "Will you join our band?"
Tyler: "Uhhhh. No."
Blair: (after a long pause) "Good idea. Good idea."
Another classic is when drummer Stan Lynch, ever the agitator, told Tom that "the drummer for Cinderella has a yacht!" Tom asked, "Who's Cinderella?" to which Stan replied, "They're a heavy metal band and they all have yachts!" Tom paused for a while and then drawled, "You should join THAT band." As the laughter died down, Zanes offered that this story really represented the "emotional center of the book."
The book took longer than expected, after Petty had read the first half, declaring, "People are gonna like this." Zanes received a phone call from Petty's manager saying, "Tom thinks you need more than the two days planned to finish." Warren told the manager he had Broadway tickets with his son, to which the manager replied, "Sometimes you gotta skip the Broadway play." Zanes then told the audience: "I heard that. I heard that. Some conversations are pretty economical." Perfect.
The evening ended with Warren playing a solo acoustic version of "The Wild One, Forever," (one of my favorite Petty songs from his debut album,) and then Janovitz, joined by The Figgs' Mike Gent, played "American Girl." Tanya Donelly, from local faves Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly, came up to duet with Bill on the Petty/Stevie Nicks tune "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," before Warren, Bill and Gent finished up with John Sebastian's "Stories We Could Tell," which also closed out the TP/Heartbreakers live set Pack Up The Plantation.
In closing, Zanes offered up these words of sage advice: "Seeing our heroes in human scale doesn't diminish them, it builds them up. Writing this book was so fucking fun because EVERYONE loves this guy!"
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