Tom Petty’s Influence on Forming My Identity; Teaching Me to Question the System, Not Necessarily Authority Itself

I want to be clear: I am hereby giving permission to Tom Petty, who passed away yesterday at age 66, to affect my emotions.

Right now I am thinking back to exactly where I was 23 years ago, in the fall of 1994. I was 13 years-old and in the 8th grade.

While at the Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I had a $20 bill in my wallet that I was eager to spend on my first Tom Petty cassette tape. Overwhelmed by all his albums, I chose his Greatest Hits album, which was still new at the time.

The 30 year age difference between Tom Petty and me didn’t matter. This 43 year-old, 5’9”, legendary rocker was one cool dude.

As I was still just learning the play the guitar at the time, his music would serve as a major influence on my musical style. By the time I got to college and began recording my own music, I actually used his 1989 album, Full Moon Fever, as the prototype for the mixing style.

Exactly 12 years ago, right after I had moved to Nashville, the Green Hills Mall had just reopened from remodeling, and were giving out $50 gift cards to the first 50 people who showed up on the grand reopening. I spent the night in the parking lot with my friends.

After realizing the Green Hills mall was more of a fancier mall, the only thing worth spending my money on was CDs; so I spent it all on Tom Petty albums.

Now as an adult, I can look back and see why exactly Tom Petty was always cool:

He was the definition of what it meant to be a rebel. He was the symbol of true rock-n-roll.

I can’t think of a more defiant line in any song recorded by any artist:

“You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”

Tom Petty continually questioned the system. His album, The Last DJ, exposed the politics and greed behind what it now takes to be successful in music.

His identity was based on nonconformity; especially when it came to music.

There is no question that Tom Petty served as a guide for me in forming my identity. As a young teenager, I learned that being cool and rebellious wasn’t really about defying figures in authority, but instead, about questioning and challenging “the system”.

I am grateful to have lived the first half of my life with Tom Petty as a part of it. As for the 2nd half of my life, I’ll stick with what he taught me to get through the rest.

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The Glory of Eating Out: Entertainment, Activity, and Ignorance of Calories

Eating food can easily become entertainment, in of itself.

This Saturday, my wife will finish her final class for her Master’s program.  We’ve been anticipating this day for a year and a half- specifically, we’ve been planning to go somewhere nice for dinner to celebrate.  Though we’ve had our sights set for months on Stony River for a good steak dinner, we remembered recently that we don’t really like steak.  So we instead have discovered a quaint “only in Nashville” sort of place that looks to be more our speed: http://www.12southtaproom.com/

Something I’ve been realizing now more than ever is why eating out is fun.  There are obvious reasons for this, like not having to cook, set the table, or clean the dishes.  And the fact that when you eat dinner out, you have many choices of what you will eat.  All valid reasons.  Yet very obvious.

Here are more subtle reasons:

Environment: Whether or not you truly are a “people person”, or are one and just don’t realize it (People Watching 101), part of the allure of going out to eat is to be around people you don’t know, who serve as background noise and sometimes accidently, as entertainment.

Of course aside from the strangers we like dining near (not with), there also is something soothing/weird in looking at the random memorabilia hanging on the walls- whether it’s old pictures of sad, creepy looking people from the 1920’s, a goofy moose head, or a canary yellow guitar that Tom Petty used to record his Wildflowers album in 1994.  Ultimately, whatever it is, it’s something else to look at.

Activity: Eating good food that we enjoy is more than just about “getting full” or about nutrition.  It’s simply a fun activity.  Yes, we could make the same menu items on our own (with enough Internet research for recipes) and they may taste similar.  But aside from the fact that we’re not cooking it, there is something fun about having someone else serve you.  When someone else waits on you, it gives a sense of “I deserve this” (Password).

Ignorance to calories: Yes, we are overaware that fast food is a killer.  But we turn a blind eye to the nutritional facts at nicer restaurants, essentially all of them.  Even when the meal is low-fat, and even more difficult to pull off, low-sugar, it is still almost guaranteed to be high in sodium- which is linked to heart disease and hardened arteries.  But no matter how nice the restaurant it is, it’s pretty much given that there’s at least 75% of your daily sodium in the meal, at best.

And of course, the serving portions are typically at least twice to three times what a meal should be.  But turning a blind eye to all these nutritional facts makes it much more fun.

So go now, and celebrate, with strange wall decorations, quirky people sitting at the table next to you, and a meal prepared by the salt gods.

Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

My Nose Always Gets There Before I Do

I’m curious to know how many people are like me:  I can always see my nose, peripherally.

It’s not that I’m always thinking about it, but my nose is constantly part of my vision.  If I’m watching the movie 500 Days of Summer, my nose is there the whole time.  If I’m having a serious conversation with my wife, my nose has a front row seat for the event.

My nose is not of Dustin Hoffman proportions.  It’s not noticeably big.  But I’m realizing that there are a lot of people out there who can’t see their own nose if they look down.

I guess it’s like the way some cars have a much bigger dashboard than others.  Not better or worse.  Just different.

“Try so hard to stand alone, struggle to see past my nose; always had more dogs than bones.” -“Square One” by Tom Petty

The Edge of “Me Too” Culture: What Makes People Famous

My sister is my editor. She is the first to read what I write, typically two days before it’s published. If I am working on a piece that I feel may be pushing the envelope/over the top/too forceful, I let her proofread it for me. And most of the time, she tells me to keep it the way it is.

Just last week she labeled one of my drafts as “edgy”. Then later that day as I read a chapter in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles on my lunch break, it stressed the importance of each article I write needing to be short, informative, and edgy. There that word is again. Edgy.

Thanks to WordPress I am finally able to track the number of daily readers along with knowing which things I write are the most popular posts. So far, it has consistenty been those “edgy” ones that I ran by my sister before posting. People like edgy stuff. It has now been statistically proven.

We live in a world of “me too” culture. “Anything you can do, I can do better” has become “anything you can do, I can do, but it will probably be a crappier version, but still, I can do it too.” Anyone can sing, dance, record music, make a computer app, do a video series on YouTube, and write blogs. The more crowded a venue, the more mediocre and blandized the general talent becomes. That’s why people are drawn to the edge. The edge of what’s normal. The edge of what’s familiar. The salt of the earth.

People tend to talk about how crazy life is. (Instantly the intro to Jon and Kate Plus 8 comes to mind, along with Michael Buble’s song “Everything”). Yes, life is crazy. And it’s also pretty mundane. So when people look for entertainment and/or enlightenment, they tend to venture off the main trail to find it.

Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty would most likely not have won American Idol in their days. But their uniqueness and off-beat perspective found a way to draw people in through their odd lyrics and quirky personas.

It’s pretty obvious in any episode of Howie Mandel’s “Deal or No Deal”. The contestants always have some sort of stupid gimmick. An annoying catch phrase or weird favorite color. It becomes the theme of that episode.

From Seinfeld to Super Mario Bros.  Things that are both weird and common attract people.

For me it all goes back to Junior High when I realized the irony of the phrase “everyone is special and unique”. Yes. Yes, they are. But if everyone is special and unique, then they’re all the same. Standing in the in-between of what’s familiar and what is off-beat is often where audiences form.  Nothin’ draws a crowd like a crowd.