Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Man Out of Time

Petty: The Biography – Warren Zanes (St. Martin’s/ Griffin)

I recently subjected myself to the four-hour Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers documentary on Netflix, a grueling endeavor if there ever was one, even for a fan. So I had many of the Tom Petty takes on the world stories fresh in my mind when I started to tackle Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography.

Zanes, a rocker in his own right with his band the Del Fuegos, is the owner of a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, so I guess I wasn’t surprised that this bio has a kind of documentarians feel to it. I have never been a fan of the “how the band got started” portions of these kinds of bios, I am more interested in the meat and potatoes of recording sessions and touring.

So much of who Tom Petty would become and remain was foundational in his in his youth that it’s almost like he hasn’t evolved with age. A large part of him remains rooted to that time. Zanes’ writing is a bit disjointed at times as he tries to walk a fine line between biographer and critical darling and yet he shows flashes of insight into crucial moments in Petty’s career; the Petty family Christmas party where Zanes stumbles upon George Harrison strumming a guitar while Petty and Jeff Lynne hang out, could that have been the genesis of the Traveling Wilburys?

The thing that Petty: The Biography, may do best is to really mark a place in the history of rock ’n’ roll for the greatness of Tom Petty. It’s easy to forget his contributions and interactions over the course of his career, everything from his own efforts to working with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, the Wilburys and so many more. Zanes’ book deserves a place on the shelf of any Petty or rock fan in general. 

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