Ron Rosenbaum

Tom Petty Gets (Some) Respect Tonight

…or maybe not. Petty detractors (in both senses of the word) will use his Superbowl halftime appearance tonight against him. “Too mainstream.” While to me he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves from the non mainstream. I just got a copy of his latest best hits collectionAnthology and although there are two unforgivable omissions, there are a certain songs therein that, to me place him in the Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bruce class to which usually is denied entry.

One of the Great Omissions in the new collection: Louisiana Rainone of the all time great driving songs–the kind of song driving was invented for– or for binge CD repeat listening. Or both.

And come on: Refugee! The harsh but compassionate analog to Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Along with Even the Losers and The Waiting, it makes you realize that the way Dylan and the folkies had compassion for the economically and racially oppressed, Tom Petty reaches out to the emotionally oppressed, the love-deprived and love-sick, and tells the oppressor Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around(The hard-to-resist duet with Stevie Nicks is on here.)

Then there’s American Girl: holds its own with Bowie’s “Young Americans” and when paired with Petty’s classic California girl tribute, Free Fallin’you realize one thing he does better than most is write songs that display a good natured dazzled and respectful awe at American girls that would make Brian Wilson smile

And then for pure pop pleasure Here Comes my Girl. So directly joyful. It’s the kind of charmingly earnest song that if you find yourself driving with someone you love and it comes on the radio, you point to her and make her giggle, embarrassed and (usually) pleased.

And then his inspirational songs. I promise to post this before halftime, so I can make this prediction that one of the numbers he does is I Won’t Back Down. And good for him: We all need songs to psych us up at times, right? This is one of those songs.(I’ll bet the other one he does tonight is “Refugee” unless they veto it on grounds it’s too political, considering the immigration issue. Don’t let them Tom!)

). But there’s a little known Tom Petty song from a movie soundtrack that is the other Great Omission of the new greatest hits album. Another inspirational song of a sort. It was from the soundtrack of an Ed Burns movie She’s the One( whatever happened to Maxine Bahn?) and it’s called Walls and its refrain “Even walls can fall” is fuel for optimism for lovers about to give up hope everywhere.

But wait, there’s also the obvious-from-the-title uplift of Learning to Fly, and if you’re tired of uplift then you’ve got to go straight for the brilliant melancholy Straight Into Darkness. An amazing little known lost-love song. “Being in love is a man’s salvation./The weak get strong, The strong carry on…/Straight into darkness.” The ringing guitar riff both celebratory and funereal that undergirsds the words “straight Into darkness” is a killer.

Give the guy some respect is all I’m asking.