Tom Petty's Southern Accents

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If you think it is an impossible task to write anything new or relevant about Petty's much-celebrated career, Washburn will surprise you. A great book that does justice to a great collection.
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I love Tom Petty and this was a great read about a great album.  It will help to keep his music kegzcy alive. I've read a few of these type of books now and I always find them fascinating. More please.
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I read the 33 1/3 on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Southern Accents.” It’s a deep dive into one of Petty’s albums. It’s too bad he wasn’t alive when the author started writing this. It would have been interesting to get his take. Instead we have interviews with Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell. If you’re a casual fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, this goes too deep for you. If you want to read about the background to some of the songs on “Southern Accents”, you might enjoy this. I’m somewhere in the middle. This wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be more like his biography, but then again, that’s not really the point of this series. It was too “academic” for me.
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This is one of the best  33 1/3 books I have read, the author gives a great description of where Tom Petty was when he made the album , “Southern Accents”, the idea behind the album, and a very thorough analysis of what went wrong when making the album. He talks to former Heartbreakers members Bermont Tech and Mike Campbell. They give a lot of insight into where the Heartbreakers were at the time of the album and how the album affected the band. In addition to this the author gives his opinion on how the album romanticizes confederate imagery and gives a great account on where he thinks Petty may have been coming from when he made these decisions and how apologetic c he was just a few years later. 

There is insight into the creation of the Don Henley hit “Boys of Summer” and the effect it had on the band. Background is provided on everything from where Petty likely was influenced for the sound on the album (a remix of one of his own tracks) and how Dave Stewart was brought in to produce some songs on the album. 

A description of how the Heartbreakers reset after this album and what led to Full Moon Fever is also described. Also included in the book is a very thoughtful analysis of how the Civil War has been remembered. 

The best 33 1/3 books I have read so far either come from a place of love for the album or take an aspect of the album and expand on that subject. This book is written in a way that you could appreciate equally whether this is your favorite or least favorite Petty album, the author remains neutral and provides enough background on the album that anyone could enjoy it. Highly recommended. 
Here is a link to a playlist I made on Spotify to accompany the book
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I'm not really much of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fan. He has some great songs; I love listening to "American Girl" and "Into the Great Wide Open" while driving with all of the windows down in the summer, but to say that I am a fan, will be too much of a stretch. I do not own any of his albums, and I really was not familiar with the "Southern Accents" album, so I was interested in someone doing a deep study of one of his minor releases instead of his commercial successes. I listened to the album before I started reading it, and I knew "Don't Come Around Here No More," but that was it. And then Michael Washburn takes me on this journey.

Washburn looks at "Southern Accents" as a deeply flawed, deeply troubling album. Originally Petty was going to work on a double concept album about the South, narrated by a fictional white Southern man, but at the end of the day, Petty released a nine song album, three of the songs cowritten by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. The bigger problem though is Petty ignoring people of color and the history and influence they have in the South. "Southern Accents" does not become a concept album about the south, but about the white south. As Washburn points out: There is nary a mention of a black person on the entire album. But there is the great amount of time Petty spends on tour for this album, including a tour album called, "Pack Up the Plantation: Live!" surrounded by Confederate Battle flags. Washburn takes on these problems with a full head of steam, and he does not make any excuses for Tom Petty and his team's flaws. I like that Washburn is a fan of Petty but not so much of a fan that he does not call him out on his behavior during this time. Washburn uses interviews with the surviving Heartbreakers and with some in the Petty camp for this book, and he uses care with the story, trying to explain it without making a single excuse. At the end of the day, Washburn does a really good job, and the end product is a compelling account of an album that really isn't that great.  

I received this as an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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Southern Accents is few people's favourite Tom Petty record. The myth goes that it was intended as a double album about the American south, but its troubled creation - including Petty pulverising his hand after punching a wall - and the intervention of a Eurythmic led to it being condensed into a nine-song mish mash, interspersing its original concept with what are now some exceptionally dated tracks.

Michael Washburn's book on the album digs deep into that myth and, while not quite debunking it, certainly sheds some interesting light on the record. It's an extremely well-written entry in the series, picking apart the songs which need dissecting, and all but ignoring the ones which aren't so worthy. It's something of a piece with the recent entry about Drive-By Truckers' excellent "Southern Rock Opera". The DBT album (and the book about it) fixates on "the duality of the Southern thing" - the racial and psychological divide of how Southerners today have to grapple with their heritage.

Unsurprisingly, Washburn makes no mention of DBT in his book on Petty. There's no telling he's ever heard the album. However, the duality of the Southern (Accents) thing is implicit in every page. The writer concentrates as much on the Southern Accents that could have been (which he refers to as "the Shadow Southern Accents") as the Southern Accents that was, and that concept drives his book's main thesis: yes, the album would have been better in its original guise, but even that would still only tell half the story Petty intended. "To put it bluntly," he writes, "Petty's South is the white South", in terms of not only its musical and lyrical content, but the imagery of the record sleeve and its ensuing tour.

Petty, himself a Southerner, was raised in Florida - home of Lynyrd Skynyrd and, by definition, Southern Rock, but is best known as an LA musician. Washburn more than capably explores all of this detail and more, mixing straightforward band biography with historical information and personal memoir, paralleling Petty's evolving relationship with Confederate iconography with his own reckoning with his own. Ultimately, it's a 130-page checking of white Southern privilege, whether it be Petty's, Washburn's own, or that of the 21st century South.

The book also contains new interviews with two of the key Heartbreakers - Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench - which are thoughtful and funny, particularly the full transcript of the latter's thoughts on cocaine's impact on both the album and one's hair. One major tragedy regarding the book is that Petty was also willing to talk, but sadly passed away not long after Washburn signed the contract to write the book. His retrospective insight into this troubled era of his own career would have been truly fascinating, but Petty's absence, and the notion of the book that could have been seems strangely fitting.
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