The origins of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are not unlike
any other American rock and roll band trying to make a go of it in the '70s.
What separated the Gainesville, Florida-based group from the thousands of
other wannabes was a surly raw talent, a fierce determination, and an unflinching
refusal to compromise, especially when it comes to their intrepid leader.
Building this band into a rock and roll institution that’s lasted over
30 years is probably what attracted world-class director Peter Bogdanovich
to man the helm of a feature-length documentary entitled Runnin’
Down A Dream.
With a running time of almost four hours, Runnin’ Down A Dream
leaves no stone uncovered. From his beginnings with Mudcrutch through his
journey to Los Angeles where he found fame and fortune, Petty and his relentless
pursuit to save rock and roll is lovingly chronicled. Stevie Nicks, Eddie
Vedder, Dave Grohl, George Harrison, Jackson Browne, Roger McGuinn, Dave Stewart,
Jeff Lynne, Rick Rubin, Jimmy Iovine, Johnny Depp, various friends, colleagues,
family and band members, past and present — they all weigh in, citing
Petty’s gift as a songwriter, front man and all-around great guy, while
the film probes and analyzes the evolution of his career intertwined with
We learn how Petty’s childhood helped shaped his vision. The chance
meeting between Petty and guitarist/right-hand man Mike Campbell is eloquently
recounted by drummer Randall Marsh, who, despite being sent packing after
Mudcrutch failed to land a record deal, shows no animosity or bitterness toward
Petty’s eventual success (perhaps due to the fact that the singer recently
made an album with his former Mudcrutch band mates). Stan Lynch, the drummer
who replaced Marsh and stayed with the band until the early 90s, comes off
as sullen at times, but even he can’t deny the impact of the band or
the ensuing success he and his cohorts enjoyed during their rise in the 70s
Remarkably, as the story progresses and each album is reviewed, you can see
how the band solidified as musicians and associates. Obviously, Tom Petty
gets most of the attention here, portrayed as the dominant figure throughout,
especially when he worked with the Traveling Wilburys and recorded incredibly
successful “solo” albums like Full Moon Fever
and Wildflowers. The side ventures caused tension with certain
band members while simultaneously taking Petty and his music to new plateaus.
Bruce Springsteen and his relationship with the E Street Band may be called
into question from time to time, but Tom Petty “always” has the
Heartbreakers when he hits the road. The two are simply interchangeable, and
totally dependent on one another for continued efficiency.
The story isn’t all candy-coated. Petty's legendary battles with record
labels regarding price gouging and typical bad deals are extensively covered.
The loss of bassist of Howie Epstein is also given a sensitive and fair overview.
In the end, Bogdanovich, whose masterful cinematic strokes include The
Last Picture Show, Mask and episodes of “The Sopranos,”
proves he did his homework thoroughly by presenting one of the greatest American
rock and roll bands in a even-handed, ebullient light.
As part of the box set there's a third DVD comprising the 30th Anniversary
concert of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in their hometown of Gainesville.
Along with obligatory performances of hits like “Mary Jane’s Last
Dance,” Free Fallin’” and “American Girl,” Stevie
Nicks joins the band on stage for mindful renditions of “Stop Draggin’
My Heart Around,” “Insider,” and “I Need To Know,”
featuring the Fleetwood Mac chanteuse on lead vocals. As a tribute to their
roots, the group also covers Bo Diddley's “I’m A Man” and
Fleetwood Mac's “Oh Well.” A CD of rare outtakes and unreleased
nuggets rounds out Runnin’ Down A Dream, a fulfilling
and satisfying package every Tom Petty fan should own.
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