Tom Petty Stood Up For Authentic Rock Music – And He Never Backed Down

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By Adam Behr in The Conversation.

 

The most watched video on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s YouTube Channel – at over 46m views – is a cover version of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The performance features an all-star cast and a famous guitar solo by Prince.

Channelling George Harrison’s voice and lyrics, the glue holding the whole thing together is Tom Petty – simultaneously and effortlessly occupying the roles of front man, “sideman” and tribute act in the ultimate pub band. But championing a moment of rock industry celebration without collapsing into parody or contradiction is a tightrope act which – as with much of what Petty achieved – is harder than it looks.

Petty, who has died at the age of 66, was the scrawny, kid next door (even as an adult) with an unadorned style and lack of movie-star looks. But he was also an archetype of staunchly and self-consciously “authentic” rock. For Petty – a romantic rather than an experimenter – live performance, a core rock sound and tradition were what counted the most.

 

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