In the 1980s, Tom Petty’s Music Videos Could Get a Little Weird

Many of Tom Petty’s music videos in the 1980s were imaginative, visually rich movies that were inspired by earlier literary works.

Things get started in 1982 with You Got Lucky, in which the Heartbreakers motor through a presumably postapocalyptic desert and rediscover the boom box and electric guitar. The Mad Max aesthetic is more derivative than inspired, but the band demonstrates that they can wear hats well, and  Battlestar Galactica and an animated Chuck Berry make fleeting appearances.

His creative, ultimately disturbing, 1985 video with the Heartbreakers for Don’t Come Around Here No More has a very ’80s Alice trapped in Wonderland, with Petty as the Mad Hatter (top hats were a thing for him).  The song was written with Dave Stewart (Petty’s next door neighbor when an arsonist set fire to Petty’s house), who claimed it was inspired by a Carrollesque night he spent at a party at Stevie Nicks’ house.

Runnin’ Down a Dream, from his 1989 solo album, is a black and white animated video inspired by the early twentieth century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Petty is led through a dream landscape by a small, cigar-chewing figure wearing a crown, a clear homage to Slumberland‘s Flip the clown. On his adventure, there are allusions to Wonderland, Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, and King Kong.

Tom Petty: “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing”

One morning in 1987, someone set fire to Tom Petty’s house while Petty, his wife, child, and housekeeper were inside it. Everyone survived, but the entire house, except for his basement recording studio, was quickly consumed by the flames. The arsonist was never captured.

After the fire, Tom Petty did two things: he rebuilt the house, and wrote I Won’t Back Down.  “There’s not a hint of metaphor in this thing,” he said of the song, which was released on his 1989 solo album.

 

The Mysterious Toynbee Tile – Raise Dead Planet Jupiter

 

Toynbee Tile, Atlantic City
Toynbee Tile, Atlantic City

One of the many mysterious Toynbee Tiles. This one was seen stuck to the street  in Atlantic City, New Jersey, near the Forever 21 outlet store.

The tiles are cut from linoleum and stuck to the road surface. The words consistently refer to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, resurrection, and Jupiter.

They are found in and around Philadelphia, in New Jersey, and in many other cities primarily along the Boston-Washington D.C. axis, but also as far away as Santiago, Chile. The original ones, first sighted in the 1980s,  were likely the work of one individual, but new ones (probably including the one above) that have appeared in the last few years probably have been placed by copycats.

While many Toynbee tiles have been destroyed or covered over by road repaving, one government group, the Philadelphia Streets Department, at least made an effort to preserve some of them . Are they worthy of preservation? If you peel up ephemeral street art and put in a museum, is it still ephemeral street art? As the original Toynbee Tiles are threatened with extinction in the wild, they may live forever, if not on Jupiter, at least in cyberspace.