In honor of the late Tom Petty, here’s something I wrote for the Monkey Puzzle Press blog back in 2011.
At a local summer community festival a band made up entirely of children played the Tom Petty & The Heartrbeakers’ song “Learning to Fly” and did not succeed. The children’s arms and hands were not developed or quick enough to control their instruments. They had no keyboard. They didn’t play the guitar solo. And the singer delivered all the lyrics with the same passionless rhythm. He had no sense of dynamics and did not grasp the themes of the song.
“Learning to Fly” is a song about flying and how it feels great but how you must at some point end the flight and land on the ground and the ground is a drag compared to flying.
It may also be a song about drugs.
The children looked miserable. They looked like they wanted to be at home playing with toys instead. It made me want to yell “who put these kids up to this? Who authorized a thing of this poor quality?”
But when they were finished several nearby adults excitedly clapped their hands. They didn’t seem to understand that Music had just been destroyed a little bit forever. It confused me.
Afterward I called up my good friend Get In The Car Helen and told him about it.
“The children didn’t do the song JUSTICE,” I said. “I wanted to get The Chills, but I couldn’t. And I even began questioning the brilliance of Tom Petty’s songwriting.”
GITCH said he understood what I was saying and suggested that our retro pop/poetry tribute duo GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE US perform the song ‘the right way.’
“Great idea,” I said, “I’ll play guitar and sing. And you play the keyboard and recite a new Heartbreak poem somewhere within the song.”
“The poem will be about birds, gravity, anal sex, and doom,” he said.
“Excellent,” I said, “we’ll do it at next week’s open mic at The Bar and invite all the prettiest girls we know.”
We made a plan to go home and practice and meet a couple days before the open mic to put it all together and polish.
That week The Cokehead started calling me for cab rides again. We did a bunch of blow together and I didn’t get around to practicing.
At the same time GITCH stopped answering his phone, so we didn’t meet.
About an hour before the open mic he finally called me. He told me how he got an email from Helen that week saying she’s dating a new guy named Craig. He told me it made him so miserable he couldn’t do anything but get high and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs.
“I didn’t work on the song either,” I said. “I think I’m in The Bad Place again and for no reason at all.”
GITCH said he wouldn’t have a poem, but the song was easy and we could probably just wing it if he was on Xanax and mushrooms. I felt the same way if I could do a few lines first.
At the open mic there were many pretty girls who liked Tom Petty. Me and GITCH couldn’t wait to impress them.
But when we performed the song GITCH played all the wrong chords. And my guitarwork was sloppy and I forgot a lot of the lyrics. There were long gaps with just the wrong chords and no lyrics. The pretty girls cringed. My cocaine was wearing off and I didn’t believe I could overpower our mistakes. And GITCH was in an unresponsive daze. Everyone in The Bar stopped listening and loudly talked over us. The song fizzled out midway thru and we didn’t even get to the end before we just shrugged at each other and walked off the stage. No one knew if we were finished or not and they did not clap.
Afterward I got drunk and didn’t talk to anybody. I sat by myself and tried to evaluate whether my band was better than the band of children. It was hard for me to say, we had different weaknesses, but at least people had clapped for the children.