CD Review

The Last DJ, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Warner Brothers, 2002

Unfortunately, copyrights prohibit the publication of the lyrics of this new album/CD by Tom Petty, but for Tom Petty the lyrics are the reason for the album. The songs on this recording, like all his albums/CDs, are his own lyrical and musical creations. His national tour for the album says it all: “No Commercial Sponsors.”

Petty’s definition of anti-commercialism begins with a song exposing the abuse that disc jockeys (DJs) take from their employers as the big-time record/CD companies demand the playing of only certain discs. That song, appropriately titled “The Last DJ,” starts out with the words, “Well, you can’t turn him into a company man,” and points to the “celebrating of mediocrity” as the end result of corporate control over music.

Another song, entitled “Joe,” decries the exploitation of young women singers who are forced to practically undress on stage to promote their songs: “bring me a girl they’re always the best you put ‘em on stage and you have ‘em undress some angel whore.” We can imagine Petty has seen it all in his over three decades in the business, and he is speaking his mind more than ever. But his anger is not aimless. He makes it clear who the enemy is when he sings: “My name’s Joe, I’m the CEO; I’m the man makes the big wheels roll.”

Petty is not naïve. He understands that the industry is about money and making money. But he condemns the greed. One small example: he won’t allow “golden circle” skyboxes at his in-person events. He has said that he hasn’t seen a rock show that was worth $200. (Note that Steve Earle, the rebel of them all, has all seats selling for $33.00 at his upcoming Nov. 21 performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York.)

More and more performing artists who are deemed mass pop icons and regularly perform in sold-out arenas are trying to find ways to reject the system that has elevated them to stardom, while at the same time retaining their fan support. The developing struggles around economic, social and political crises we are facing give the Pettys, Earles, Springsteens and others an opportunity to bridge the superstar gap, to make music for and on behalf of the people, and take a stand against corporate greed.

– Eric Greene (pww@pww.org)

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