Tom Petty, who passed away on Monday at 66, was an incredible singer and songwriter, obviously, but he was also an underrated comedic actor, a staunch advocate for artistic control, and a guy who wasn’t afraid to apologize when he f*cked up. The “Don’t Come Around Here No More” singer prominently featured a Confederate flag during his Southern Accents tour with the Heartbreakers in 1985, a decision he would later deeply regret.
“The Confederate flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, Florida,” Petty explained to Rolling Stone in 2015, when the controversy over South Carolina’s lowering the Confederate flag was raging. “I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo. I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant.”
Southern Accents, which included such minor hits as “Rebels” and “Make It Better (Forget About Me),” was originally intended as a concept album about the South, but “the concept part slipped away probably 70 percent or so into the album,” Petty said. “I just let it go, but the Confederate flag became part of the marketing for the tour. I wish I had given it more thought. It was a downright stupid thing to do.” The flag was brought out whenever the band performed “Rebels,” which is told through the perspective of a Southerner who’s still upset about the North “[burning] our cornfields and [leaving] our cities leveled,” but Petty immediately realized the mistake he made.
When we toured two years later, I noticed people in the audience wearing Confederate flag bandanas and things like that. One night, someone threw one onstage. I stopped everything and gave a speech about it. I said, “Look, this was to illustrate a character. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn’t who we are.” There were some boos and some cheers. But honestly, it’s a little amazing to me because I never saw one again after that speech in that one town. Fortunately, that went away, but it left me feeling stupid. That’s the word I can use. I felt stupid. (Via)
Petty wasn’t ashamed of his Southern heritage and he understood the traditions being passed down from generation to generation, but “when they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it. But honestly, it all stemmed from my trying to illustrate a character. I then just let it get out of control as a marketing device for the record. It was dumb and it shouldn’t have happened.”
This country could learn a lot from the Josh Abbott Band’s Caleb Keeter and Tom Petty, and not just how to write a damn good song.
(Via Rolling Stone)