Official Website Interview conducted by Warren Zanes (2007)

10/15/2007    投稿者:

Warren Zanes によるオフィシャル・サイト向けのインタビュー。翻訳するタイミングを逃してしまいましたので、アーカイブとして英文インタビューのみ掲載しておきます。

A few nights back I spoke with Tom Petty. From his home in Malibu he discussed his latest adventures at length. Toward the close of that animated conversation, my wife came in wearing her nightgown and looking a little frantic to tell me that our cat, missing four days, was discovered in the top of a massive oak tree . . . and she was going up after him. Only because I had visions of my wife plummeting to the ground in a cotton nightgown did I end my conversation with the artist. Rare is the crisis that could take me away from a phone call with Tom Petty, a man I consider the best songwriter of his generation.

As became clear over the course of the interview, Petty is in the midst of a busy artistic season. At the center of the activity is the theatrical and commercial release of Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. In addition, Chronicle Books is releasing a companion volume, also entitled Runnin’ Down A Dream, which contains interview material from the film and large amounts of additional interview material that is unique to the book. Throughout the volume are hundreds of photos and rare artifacts from the Heartbreaker archive. The book is a companion piece, yes; but, as Petty pointed out, the two projects were allowed to develop separately and did indeed become something like different perspectives on the same subject.

Petty’s sense of gratitude was infectious. Never one to take himself too seriously, he nonetheless acknowledged the satisfaction he felt as the Heartbreakers sat back to watch their lives unfold on the big screen. Funny, insightful, enjoying a particularly inspired moment, Petty was in great form. He left me with sage advice: “Good luck. Don’t fall out of the tree.”

Can you tell me what it was like to screen the Peter Bogdanovich documentary for the Heartbreakers? Had any of them seen it?

None of them had seen the film. I was the only one who had seen the rough cut. The band really wanted to stay away from the film while it was in progress. And I understand that, wanting to walk in and see the finished product.

Frankly, Peter and I were a little nervous about the situation. It’s their story, you know? Very personal stuff. But we met up at the theater; Warners rented us a little screening room; and all the band was there with girlfriends or wives, and in we went. The documentary is in two parts, with an intermission between. But, when the screening began, right away I could tell the guys were into it. They were hooting and hollering, applauding now and then (laughs). It went very well. So, at the intermission they came out all excited, couldn’t wait to get to part two. I was surprised at how enthusiastic they were.

That must have been gratifying.

It was. It really was. It was gratifying on a couple of levels. To have them respond in this way, of course–but then I liked it, too. It was the first time I’d seen the complete cut. I’d been on the project but gone away some time back. And I hadn’t seen it with the music and other audio mixed. The sound was beautiful, and it looked so great on the screen. I reckon most people will see it on DVD, but, boy, if you have a chance to see it on the big screen . . . it’s really an experience.

There’s a one-day, wide theatrical release? Is that right?

Yeah. And at the moment it’s getting wider and wider because there’s good word-of-mouth on the film and we’re getting more theaters stepping up and wanting to book the film. I’m not sure just how many theaters at this point, but it’s going to far surpass what I thought a 4-hour movie could do.

Prior to this has the band ever had this kind of opportunity to sit back and take stock, consider the collective adventure? Or has the pace of work never allowed that?

I think this is the one and only time we’ve gotten together and reflected on the whole thing. You’re right–the pace is always pretty maddening, doesn’t allow for taking stock. So, to have this much of an opportunity for reflection is a pretty big deal. Mike was very moved. He was emotional about it, you know? He said to me, “Wow. This really pulls at your heart strings at certain moments.” For us, as a band watching this together, there are a lot of faces, people that you forget about who were actually a big part of things in one period or another. But there have been so many people involved that it’s easy to lose track. But there they all were, parading before us (laughs).

It’s hard to express how much it meant to see this, really. Peter did a great job. I think he really captured it.

One thing that struck me was the dignity of it all. The film is very funny at times, painful at others, but dignified throughout.

Yeah, he did manage to do that; and still tell the truth. He didn’t really avoid anything, which I liked. You know, I don’t think I won a single argument during the making of the film. But he was right. It is a very dignified thing. It’s fun and entertaining. And the story is pretty good, I think.

When I was told about the band screening, I found myself wishing I could have been a fly on the wall. Rare is the case that a band stays together for over thirty years, but rarer still is the case when a band that stays together that long has that moment to pause and see it all. That Mike was moved is no surprise to me, having seen the film myself.

An hour ago Benmont called me, and I haven’t spoken to him since the night of the screening. He said, “I can’t get it out of my head. It really made an impression on me.” The band wants to see it again, which is great. It’s all I could have hoped for. I want to see it again myself. With the changes that were made since I’d seen it last, I was struck by the pacing, by how well it moves. I think of the film as having two halves. The first half is getting success, and the second half is more about dealing with it and how it affected us. They’re different chapters.

The pacing is remarkable. It’s a long film that manages to move with the feel of a film half its length. But I’m guessing that people will want to know the story behind the film’s length and how it was finalized.

That was Peter Bogdanovich’s call, of course. But in his thinking it took four hours to tell the story, to do justice to the narrative. Frankly, the film could have been a lot longer. There was so much chopped out. We discussed bringing it to two hours, but knew that the feeling on our end would be, “Damn, we didn’t tell them everything.” Peter decided that it played best at four hours, slightly under, and really recognized that you wouldn’t know what really went down if he cut anymore.

It’s a long story, but certainly not a dull one; so much happens. I think he was justified in making that call.
And, yeah, the pacing is really something. We had a lot of music to get in there. Only twice did we let live performances of songs play in full, “Southern Accents” and “American Girl,” and then only because they were just too good to cut. I had a lot of input with the music; but it was the editor who said, “This is just too good. You can’t cut this.” I think he was right with both of those performances.

How does the book project Runnin’ Down A Dream relate to the film project Runnin’ Down A Dream?

The book was a natural outgrowth of the film. Peter had so much material from all of the interviews he conducted, at one point the idea of a companion volume emerged. It’s great because the book and the film are two different things. If you’re fan, you should get them both. The story is the same, of course, but the book has some perspectives that didn’t make it into the film.

A lot of the photographs and artifacts from the book are drawn from the Heartbreaker archive. Are you active in the collecting process?

If something comes right by me, I’ll know to keep it. I think we’ve gotten a lot better about that, really making an effort to save this stuff. But I’m not that involved.

Do you have any favorite sections in the book? Or favorite images?

There’s a photograph of the band from what I think was our first day in England ever. It’s a real rock and roll band picture, with us leaning against a wall. It’s a great shot. I remember that we were all tired and irritable.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the photograph.

I guess we were already professionals (laughs). And my favorite part of the book is the beginning, when we’re just starting out. I was struck by our nerve, how ambitious we were.

A lot of band stories begin in innocence, and then we see a gradual wearing away of that innocence. But no matter the trials the Heartbreakers undergo in the film and in the book, something of that original spark is preserved. It feels to me like a story of the music winning.

Yeah, the music certainly does emerge triumphant. It’s hard to be completely objective because it’s me up there. It’s my life. We watched ourselves grow up on the screen as we watched the film. And we do end up different people than we were when we started . . . but still intact . . . more or less (laughs).

Another side of the story that strikes me in both the film and the book relates to Mudcrutch and how that band was poised for success. The elements were all there. But, as the film and the book reveal, success in the music business can be mercilessly arbitrary. Talent, ambition, opportunities: Mudcrutch had a lot going on.

Yeah. The stars didn’t line up just right there. Mudcrutch had a good run. Success was coming to us. The band was getting bigger and bigger. And then  . . we touched the gold ring and it turned to rust.
It just didn’t work. That’s a very painful part of the movie, when it all breaks up. When I watched the movie I just couldn’t believe I went along with it. I was like, “God, I walked away from Benmont?” It’s insane. I can’t believe I did it. But I didn’t know what to do. It was very hard for me because I just got called into the Shelter Records office one day and was told, “Hey, we’re going to drop the band. We’ll keep you if you want; but if you want to go with the band, it was nice working with you.” So, I didn’t know what to do.

Chilly stuff.

It’s terrible. To think of Benmont out there without us. That alone. Because we were really his family at that point in his life.

I think that our historical vantage point, knowing all that would come for the Heartbreakers, sometimes keeps us from seeing the Mudcrutch years for what they were. It’s easy to forget the first chapter and the fact you guys had no sense for what was lurking around the corner. The Mudcrutch story is in stark contrast with the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers story, no matter that the two bands share so much.

Mudcrutch had some bad luck. Shelter Records completely fell apart right around the time we arrived and started making our record. Leon Russell left the label, and he was half owner. The whole thing started to drift as they tried to find a distributor. I think that that shake up in the company had a lot to do with the funds drying up for Mudcrutch. It wasn’t really a lot better when the Heartbreakers got to their first album. They were still ping-ponging between ABC and MCA. There has to be a lot of luck involved in success. You can really work hard and be a good artist, but you’ve got to have a bit of that intangible luck

Yeah. That said, luck may jump start the engine, but when you’re talking about a thirty-plus year career; and the film makes this plain; you’re clearly not going to get that far on luck alone (laughs).

No. Not luck alone. Luck won’t carry you that far, no.

I think the Denny Cordell footage in the film was great.

Wasn’t that so great to have that footage of him? I didn’t know that much existed. I didn’t even know that many still pictures existed. Peter said they only had one shot of Cordell until the last few weeks of the project, when the researchers somehow found some shots. The picture of him standing in the studio with us is amazing. The band commented on the fact that Peter found a lot of stills we had never seen.

I had the chance to speak with Chris Blackwell [Island Records founder] about Denny Cordell, who Blackwell holds in very high esteem. What Chris said really reminded me that Denny Cordell was one of those record men who straddled two eras. He had one foot in an early version of the business and the other in the rock era, when artists were beginning to get a new kind of standing. It’s a conflicted position. And, as the film and book show us, the lawsuit period really brought that conflict to the surface.

Yes. Denny was very good for us in that he was an old school record maker. He really didn’t compromise on anything. And for young kids, such as we were, that was quite a lesson. He taught us from the ground up about how to make a record; and, in particular, how important the song is and how important the groove is. If you don’t have those two things, you haven’t made a record. I miss him. Then on the other hand, his sense of business was pretty lethal. He was one of those old sixties guys who just went for all the dough he could, was all about what can I get right now.

I was surprised when in the film he said, “You know, as a producer I can only take people so far.” I never knew that he felt that way. But when I heard that, in the back of my mind I wondered if he thought he’d take us only so far and then sell us to someone down the line. He never said that to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in the back of his mind. The Heartbreakers became an all encompassing, twenty-four hour job. And I also think he liked variety too much much to commit to that. 

The film will have a West Coast premiere and an East Coast premiere, the latter of which will take place at the New York Film Festival. Can you reflect on what it means to you and to the film to have a director of Peter Bogdanovich’s pedigree leading this project?

It’s a great luxury to have a director of that caliber working on the film. That’s another thing the band discussed after seeing the movie. You can really tell when there’s a good filmmaker present. He makes the story more entertaining and brings a lot of style to the way it was edited and presented; and that’s all Peter. Being shown at the New York Film Festival is beyond my wildest dreams. It’s been a major cooperative effort over the last couple years.

I think my main contribution was the music. Peter came to me for all the musical advice he needed, like where to go for a certain performance or . . . you know, ninety-five per cent of the music is from exactly the time period you’re looking at as you watch. It’s got a remarkable historical accuracy. We went into the archives and dug out tons of stuff that had never been released, especially the early Mudcrutch recordings, and we remixed a lot of it, taking vocals out so that the music didn’t fight with whatever was being said at that moment on the screen. That’s really how we scored the film, by just finding music that would work that was also from whatever time period was being discussed. It was a lot of work. It was a ball-busting job. It was as much work as I’ve ever done on album, just getting four hours of music together for this movie, finding the best music from each period. I think I’m right in saying Peter started the editing with 3000 hours of footage. (laughs) They somehow whittled it down. For six months there was an editor just going through film and trying to put it in categories.

Something that struck me was the nerve it must have taken to enter into this project with a director who was not doing this; at least initially–because he was a diehard, longtime fan of the band, as is more often the case with music documentary directors. One of the film’s producers, George Drakoulias, had a vision that Peter would make sense, but his vision was not based on Peter’s sense of connection with the Heartbreakers. In fact, Peter didn’t know a lot about the band. George had The Last Picture Show in the back of his mind, thinking that a director who understands the small, American town in that film might have a natural sympathy for the backdrop of the Heartbreaker’s story. He sensed some interesting overlap between the spirit of that film and the stories he’d heard the band tell over the years. But, all that said, you were taking a flier when you based your choice on this “theory” George had.

Yeah. It could have gone completely wrong. But I had a hunch. And you have to remember that Peter, more than just a great filmmaker, is also a very good biographer and historian. He’d done that great Orson Welles book, volumes on Hitchcock and John Ford. I’d followed his work on one side of the fence. Of course, I’d never seen him write about music.

But right away Peter was very enthusiastic about learning. He hung out with us a lot, watching us work, picking up the band dynamic, flying with us, going to rehearsal. He wasn’t always shooting. He just made sure he was there, learning everything he could. And I’m sure by now he knows us better than he ever thought he would.

Having a serious director involved also made me less concerned about what I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want this to have a VH-1 Behind The Music feel, which you’ve seen so many times and which can be a very boring exercise. In the back of my mind I thought, in agreement with Drakoulias, this is a wildcard choice but it might really be interesting. So, after meeting with Peter a couple of times I was convinced that he could do it. But neither one of us knew at that time that it would turn into such a mammoth project or that it would be a four hour film. Nor did Warner Brothers. But, I have to say, Warner Brothers was really good about trusting us and sticking with us as the project got bigger and bigger.

This is also not the first time you’ve done this, followed your instinct in this way, thinking that a particular collaboration might bear fruit; no matter that you might be surrounded by disbelievers. I’d even say you favor that approach.

Yeah, I do. I like interesting casting (laughs). But I thought; thinking of, say, Peter’s John Ford film and his approach to history; that he may have a way of seeing the Heartbreaker’s story that I didn’t.

In his early remarks Peter said, “This is very American. This is an American story all the way. It’s the American dream, and I find that very interesting.” So I just let him go. It was quite a process once it got going. I don’t know how they all stuck around to the end.

In the light of the film and the book, and even in the themes that emerge on Highway Companion, it feels like you’re in that rare place that artists like Dylan and Johnny Cash have gotten to, that place only long, steady, dignified careers lead to. There’s room there for mature work, for a wider and wider vision of the world. I also see you as an elder statesman of sorts. Does all this jive with your self-perception?

I kind of feel that. I don’t think about it much. When I do slow down a bit there is some of that. The band has certainly begun to feel an appreciation for a body of work rather than the, “Oh, this is my favorite song” or “that’s my favorite record” response. The people I meet on the street tend to say things like the band has been with them their whole life, and that the albums mark different moments along the way. I’ll hear about what album was the one when some fellow proposed to his girlfriend, the particular moments in their lives.

And the musicians are kind of the same. We get a lot of nice feedback from young musicians. It’s a terrifically good feeling. It feels very nice . . . as long as people aren’t thinking we don’t have any more to contribute, it’s fine.

What are the palpable benefits of the long career? What can you do now that you couldn’t do then?

Well, it’s funny, because now there’s a kind of freedom to what we can do that we didn’t always have. For one thing, we’re not at all concerned with making a hit. We don’t have to worry about that. And we can go into musical areas we haven’t gone into before. I think I’m as enthusiastic and excited about making more music as I have ever been. I’m very inspired at the moment and feel really good. I think there’s a lot more music to be made.

Do you think that the band’s opportunity to pause for moment and take stock, which we discussed earlier, has deepened the bond and will fuel the next phase.

I hope so. I can’t be sure. But the vibe right now is pretty good. We went out about a month ago and did a couple shows, and the ride back on the plane was a long one, which allowed us all to talk a lot. You know, the band is pretty important in all of our lives. It’s the main thing in all of our lives. All our family issues are pretty well settled. Children are grown for the most part, and we’re really focused on the band.

If I were on a Heartbreakers’ plane ride, what might I see?

If we’re together on a plane, we’re all just talking. And subjects can run the gamut. There’s a lot of music talk. On the last ride it was about what records were great, players we remember and love, then it might drift into amplifiers or . . . I don’t know . . . who has the best roadie (laughs).

What newer acts come up in these conversations? I know Benmont has a rich musical life outside of the band; does he turn the other members on to his latest interests?

Benmont is very excited about this bluegrass group he’s playing with. I heard that Mike just played with them last night at Largo. But, yeah, Ben brings things back. Ben’s really big on P.J. Harvey, for instance, and now I am too. I just played “Down By The Water” on my radio show, a song I love. Of course she’s not really new, but I always manage to find the good stuff eventually. There’s so much out there these days that it seems to be coming from all directions.

I think your XM radio show has shown that one of the best ways to know your favorite artist is to let them spin some records for you.

You may be right there.

Clearly you were doing this before the trend took off.

One of the greatest thrills of doing the show is being able to expose this music to people who may have never heard it. Eighty, maybe even ninety percent of the emails we get are people saying, “Wow. I never heard this before!” Some of the responses blow my mind, but the listeners do hear something and then want to know more about it. To me, that’s just great.

With the show I’ll sometimes throw something on there that I’m not religious about but that I think will be fun to hear. But, regardless, I try to play only things that I think are really valid, whether it’s garage rock, a blues song, or what have you.

Do you have a research period in which you prepare for the radio show? Or is it simply a part of everyday life, with your usual listening dictating what ends up on Buried Treasure?

If I hear something special, I try to make a note that the song would be good for the show. The other night, for instance, I was watching a great documentary about New Orleans music, and that inspired me to go find a bunch of stuff. Then I spread it out across a number of the shows. Lee Dorsey, Smiley Lewis . . . there are several folks I’ve always loved that the documentary keyed me into. At other times I’ll play something everyone has heard because it just feels good at the time.

Let me mention a couple specific artists who are on upcoming shows, just to get into your head regarding your choices. Paul Revere and the Raiders made both of the new shows.

Yeah. I discovered this collection of six or seven of their songs that I used to hear on the radio, not huge hits, but I heard them and thought, “Oh, that one’s a clever record.” So when I went back and listened I found that there are some amazing records by the Raiders. Terry Melcher produced all their records, and they’re very experimental, particularly when they got into the later years. Crazy records, but I really like them. Mark Lindsay is a great rock and roll singer. So I’ll probably play five or six of the Raiders’ songs this season.

Another band that shows up on the first few shows of the season is Mink DeVille.

Oh yeah. Willy DeVille. We used to play shows with his band back in the seventies. I always thought he really had something going on. I think he had some personal demons he was at war with, but he was really good. That first album especially is just great. Jack Nietzsche produced that record, and if you can find one it’s really worth hearing it. A terrific record. I love “Cadillac Walk.” And there’s another called “She’s So Tough” that’s a very strong record. He was one of those guys we thought was going to break out really big around 1977. I remember doing a bunch of shows with them, a couple when they didn’t show up. But when they did make it . . . they were really good shows.

You also just appeared on a Fats Domino tribute doing “I’m Walkin’”

Yeah. It’s the Heartbreakers cutting it live. I’m playing bass because Ron was out of town. Though I secretly wanted to anyway. It took three takes, and we stayed true to the original. The big treat for us there was Jim Horn playing the saxophone. He’s just amazing. He nailed it.

Is Fats on your shortlist of the greats?

Yeah, he’s one of the greats, for sure. Especially in those formative years of rock and roll. I think he was probably a bigger deal than people give him credit for now, but he was certainly one of those main guys. He had great single after great single.

You’re also continuing your voice-over career. If you were to describe what nutrient you get from doing King of the Hill, what would you say it is?

That’s a completely different buzz. A different world altogether from music. The greatest thing about King of the Hill is that the actors are so strong and the scripts are really good. To get to work with those two things is a miracle in itself. I think that’s what has kept me there for three years. I like all the people on the show, and we do the scenes together, with all the actors reading their parts and playing off each other. It’s a really interesting thing to do. I’m not overly serious about it, but I like doing it and I’ve got a character I enjoy doing. It’s something I get to do that’s not music and it’s rewarding.

How is it different from, say, the Gary Shandling shows [The Larry Sanders Show]?

It’s different in that the audience doesn’t see you, obviously. But, also, on the Gary Shandling show I came on as myself, which is doubly hard. With King of the Hill I’m a totally different character and have the luxury of being able to look at the script. Not that I don’t prepare I prepare by myself, in addition to rehearsing with the cast. I find it interesting and really fun to see how these actors work and how they make things work, make things really good. It’s a different art.

No matter all that we learn about you from your radio show or about the Heartbreakers from the book and the film, you remain a pretty mysterious bunch. Is this anything you’ve aimed for?

Well, that’s good to hear, first of all (laughs). But it’s not something we’ve intentionally cultivated. We always have been a little bit shy as far as the press and the public. Being shy can be a drawback in some ways, particularly these days, when you really need to get out there to have an impact amidst the media avalanche. You have to stick yourself out there to be heard. It’s funny; someone was saying to me just the other day that of all the rock groups that have survived and stuck around, the Heartbreakers have probably done the least promotion. We’re really not promo hounds. So, whatever mystery there is to the group, it’s an organic thing.