A biography of a reticent musician that will allow even his biggest fans to see him with fresh eyes and hear him with fresh ears.
Zanes (Revolutions in Sound: Warner Bros. Records: The First Fifty Years, 2009, etc.) plainly sympathizes with the plight of his subject, an artist who held his band together through decades, tensions, drug addictions, personnel shifts, and solo albums (that often fared better commercially than Petty’s work with his long-standing and much acclaimed band, the Heartbreakers). The author’s own band, the Del Fuegos, even toured with Petty’s, so he’s had personal experience from a couple of perspectives on “the point of the tour when one could hate the sound of the next man’s breathing.” But it was the author’s book on Dusty Springfield that captured Petty’s interest and apparently gained him access to nearly everyone who might present a well-rounded story of an artistically ambitious rocker, one who persevered despite considerable odds and adversity. Zanes also understands how talented musicians in a supporting role (that gives them a lesser financial share than their leader) might feel stifled serving his vision and betrayed by his solo projects and collaborations with outsiders. The narrative climaxes with Petty divorcing, falling in love, becoming addicted to heroin, mourning the deaths of parents and a band mate, isolated from the rest of the Heartbreakers, and suffering from clinical depression so severe he could hardly leave his bed. Zanes brings a depth and empathy to the narrative that never veers toward sensationalism. He also shows how and why Petty became George Harrison’s closest friend, how the band found itself working with both Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, and how Petty has found fulfillment within the delicate balances of his life.
Though it attests to the artist’s singularity, this incisive, illuminating biography also serves as an elegy to one of the golden eras of the classic rock band—of the days when “a band was everything, a shield and a shelter.”