Human beings are complex creatures. No one personality tick, trait, preference or event can hope to totally capture our complete make-up, but when you put a lot of them together, you can definitely get a better picture of who we are. That’s what the best biographies are supposed to do, anyway.
One of the better music biographies out on the shelves is Warren Zane’s book about the late, great Tom Petty. Though it was unauthorized — at the singer’s insistence — Zanes spent countless hours talking to Petty and those who knew him, creating an unvarnished portrait of one of the great artists of the 20th century. However, it was a story that didn’t make it into those pages that Zanes is now calling Petty’s “Rosebud,” an allusion to a sled in Citizen Kane, that goes even further to explain the character of the film central figure’s Charles Foster Kane. In Petty’s case, the McGuffin is a perfect cup of coffee.
In a new piece written for Rolling Stone, Zanes wrote about visiting Petty’s home and drinking some truly transcendent coffee. When asked about it, the singer perked up and “Went for 20 minutes, maybe more, talking about what a good cup of coffee should be, how to recognize one, where to find one. It was the level of engagement he reserved for subjects like Fender Telecasters or the Beatles.” The secret? Good old-fashioned Maxwell House brewed in a Bunn Automatic coffee maker, the kind you’d find in just about any diner in America.
Petty stumbled upon the combination at a diner just north of his home in Malibu and after tasting it, insisted on being shown how the coffee was made. It was unpretentious, and undeniably delicious, and rather than turning his nose up at it, Petty embraced it wholeheartedly. As Zane came to understand it:
“In that perfect cup of coffee Tom Petty served me on Malibu afternoons — every cup of Maxwell House exactly level — he could almost experience, almost feel, something he couldn’t completely get back to. That coffee, I came to believe, was his Rosebud. We were not talking about a hot drink any more than Charles Foster Kane was talking about a sled. It was really about a moment in Petty’s life when the world was in front of him, when he could feel the closeness of that kid crazy for rock & roll, before the disappointments that come even to the star’s life. We were talking about a cup of coffee, but a cup of coffee into which a world could be poured.”
You can read Zane’s entire essay about Tom Petty, including some truly interesting insight about what it means to be a biographer over at Rolling Stone.