Tom Petty was my guy like I bet he was your guy. Bob Dylan is too godlike to be that guy. Listening to Bob is like looking at a locomotive streaming through a staggering sunset: how the hell did that happen, and how lucky am I to be here to see it? you shake your head wondering. Tom was the guy standing there raising his can of beer to that glory. He gave the whole scene scale and perspective, so you could be part of the majesty too.

If that sounds too humble for the excellence of what he did, consider the part of the picture just out of the frame – he’s balancing on a guard rail, at the edge of a cliff. In cowboy boots. Yep, he didn’t make all the hard work it took to be there our problem. It only dawned on me when I read Warren Zanes excellent biography of TP this time last year: in addition to the talent, that level of commitment, an absolute belief in the medium of music. The sacrifice and selflessness, along with appetite and ego, it took to get there and stay there.

But Tom wasn’t always right. I thought Tom got it wrong a few years back, and it kind of pissed me off.

It was that adorable, maddening scene in the Runnin Down A Dream documentary where Stevie Nicks is saying “and I said c’mon Tom, let me join the band” and Tom says, granite-like, “THERE ARE NO GIRLS IN THE HEARTBREAKERS.”

I walked around for days fuming after watching the movie. How could he say that? How could he deny Stevie? And all of us – the scenes between them, their performances together, are emotional highlights of the film.



So that’s how it is, huh? Keep your crappy boys’ club! I kept thinking, like I’m ten outside my brothers’ pup tent in the woods. One of them stands sentry with a cheesy Gunsmoke rifle. I want in that tent, even if they’re only in there passing around Sgt. Rock comics. I want in that club!

But here’s where Tom was wrong. I thought about this a lot last night, as we waited through the agonizing few hours where maybe, maybe he was going to make it. I thought about it off and on through the hours after it was announced by his family that he was dead and I tried to sleep and kept waking up thinking “damn”.

There were always girls in the Heartbreakers!

Starting with American Girl, Tom Petty’s songs (or Petty & Campbell, but Tom’s lyrics) often focus on female characters. They aren’t objectified, and they aren’t caricatures. There are details that make them living, breathing women and they are usually in the process of busting out, finding themselves. Free Girl Now; Swingin; Mary Jane’s Last Dance. Walls from the She’s The One soundtrack could only be about a girl.Wildflowers.

Fill in your own here. He couldn’t have Stevie in the Heartbreakers, because that job belongs to all of us. The male rockers had their archetypes up there, but that softy Tom, that romantic Southern boy, let us gals write our own roles. We got to decide who we could be, rocking and free.

Anyways, it’s a theory. It’s the best I can do today, knowing that Tom’s gone.

tom and me
Tom & me. We’re all Heartbreakers, aren’t we?



19 thoughts on “Heartbreakers

  1. Liz Ferguson

    Had an all TP exercise class last night, ending with Room at the Top for our final stretch–in tears. Thanks for capturing one of my heroes so eloquently.

    1. amyrigby

      Oh wow, that makes me tear up. What a great way to work through it Liz! Hope the new baby is doing great and look forward to seeing you guys again soon.

  2. NJArts.net

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Here’s another good example (though a solo song, of course, not a Heartbreakers song:

    “Free Fallin'”

    She’s a good girl, loves her mama
    Loves Jesus and America too
    She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
    Loves horses and her boyfriend too

    It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda
    There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
    And I’m a bad boy, ’cause I don’t even miss her
    I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

    And I’m free, free fallin’
    Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

    All the vampires walkin’ through the valley
    Move west down Ventura Blvd.
    And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
    All the good girls are home with broken hearts

    And I’m free, free fallin’
    Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

    I wanna glide down over Mulholland
    I wanna write her name in the sky
    I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
    Gonna leave this world for awhile

    And I’m free, free fallin’
    Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

  3. Karen

    I only managed to read up-to Stevie Nicks this morning before I left for the craziness that’s been today. Finally I’ve managed to sat down with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit from Peter’s secret stash (sshhh – he’ll never notice) and steal some time to finish reading.

    Made me cry and now I cry some more thinking how much I miss you guys

    I hope it won’t be too long before we can hang out again


    1. amyrigby

      Watched his Gainesville homecoming show (2006?) version of that one last night (w/Stevie!) A lot of stuff from that show used in the documentary, great stuff.

    1. amyrigby

      Thank you, Marti! I often think “if only I could go back to school, I’d have the skills to really tackle this” but I do my best to at least say what’s in my heart! xx

  4. Christopher

    Dear Amy,

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I have been listening to TP’s music my whole life and yours for over twenty years. Thanks again and continue to share.

    1. amyrigby

      I’m embarrassed to say I only got into Tom Petty in the late 90s…not to say I didn’t appreciate a great single when I heard it on the radio, but I guess I was busy with other music to notice too much. Or maybe it only kicked in after I played my first twelve string?!

  5. Bob K

    And of course, The Wild One, Forever from the first album. It’s raw, emotionally inarticulate in the way youth is and yet romantic. Still a favourite. Thanks for this, Amy.

  6. Steve Gibson

    Good old youtube recommended this – their appearance at the Super Bowl XLII Halftime Show. Four songs in 12 1/2 minutes, a good solid dose of just what most would consider his best. I’d want “Here Comes My Girl,” you’d want “Walls,” but hey – not up to us.

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