PAUL ZOLLO – Conversations With Tom Petty – Expanded Edition
While many fans of rock music are well aware of just how remarkable Petty’s music was (both with the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys as well as his solo efforts), not that many are privy to the details of his private life, his upbringing in Florida, and what some of the greatest highs and lows of his life were. Although “Conversations With Tom Petty” primarily focuses on his artistic merits and recorded outputs, it does provide the reader with an inspiring and spirited insight into the ever-creative life and mind of Tom himself. To phrase that differently, this 444-page tome is perhaps the closest you will ever get to knowing and understanding the thoughts, feelings, and external forces that played a part in his musical endeavors and helped shape him as both a songwriter and a human being. On the other hand, the book also serves as a close study and analysis of his body of recorded works, i.e. his tunes and albums, the fruitful collaborations with Jeff Lynne of ELO fame, the Heartbreakers’ stunning work with Johnny Cash and the resultant album entitled “Unchained”, and so on and so forth. As is often the case with biographies, autobiographies, and studies of awe-inspiring musicians, their musical upbringing and early years are usually the most rewarding chapters and sections of a book to immerse oneself in and Zollo’s opus is no different. I also thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the conception of the rather bleak and hauntingly dark “Echo” (1999) record that is often overlooked as well as his (and the Heartbreakers’) session work with Bob Dylan. Other musical pioneers ala George Harrison and Roy Orbison played a huge part in Tom’s life too, which is also touched on relatively often in the book. One tiny thing that I kind of felt was missing somewhere in the epic narrative was Petty’s role in Kevin Costner’s dystopian “The Postman” from 1997 in which he played himself, but perhaps there is simply not that much to tell with respect to such a small part in Costner’s epic and to some extent flawed movie?
There are plenty of keen authorial insights and observations throughout the book’s three parts (“Life”, “Songs”, and “Additional Interviews, Articles and Reviews”), but it is also a slightly frustrating read at times in that certain topics and points of conversations are not elaborated on or discussed further. Still, there is something special about two songwriters and musicians talking face-to-face like that and Petty (who has always appeared extremely private in many interviews and articles over the years) comes across as genuine, sincere, enthusiastic, and honest without necessarily revealing or giving away too much of himself. Roughly 376 pages consisting of the Q&A format can be a bit tiring and hard to digest at times, so this is not necessarily one of those works that you absorb in one or two days, if that makes sense. There are also some amazing articles and essays towards the end of the book that are definitely worth looking into and that especially goes for the brilliant one titled “Tom, Woody and the Genius of Simplicity”, which is as thought-provoking as it is beautiful. There are numerous great anecdotes and quirky details present in the book and as a whole, it is undoubtedly a real treat for Petty fans and admirers.