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Tom Petty’s Music and a Dialectic Regionalism

Authors: Christopher Post*, Kent State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, United States
Keywords: place, Tom Petty, sense of place, regional identity, dialectic regionalism, music
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Tom Petty was a gifted songwriter in his solo work and with his three bands—the Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch, and the Travelling Wilburys. Through this work, Petty consistently wrote song lyrics reflective of his youth in the Deep South and his adulthood in Southern California. More than once, these regional identities crossed paths in the same song. This paper explores the “dialectic regionalism” of Petty’s music using compositions from two of Petty’s self-identified regionalist albums—the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents (1985) and his solo Wildflowers (1994; performed mostly by the Heartbreakers and produced by Rick Rubin). This paper particularly points out Petty’s abilities to illustrate these very different regions through his own experiences, sometimes in the same song as an expression of a more complex attachment with two oft-differentiated regions of the United States.

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