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Rocker Tom Petty: Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover


Rocker Talks About the Confederate Flag, the Shooting of Black Men and Prince

By Black Men In

Rocker Tom Petty died Monday, October 2,  2017, after being rushed to UCLA Medical Center.  He suffered cardiac arrest at his home and could not be revived. He was 66 years old.  Petty, because he was a rocker is probably not well-known by many black folks unless they follow Rock and Roll music.  Tom Petty was a different kind of guy in that he was honest about his faults and had no problem speaking publicly about the mistakes he made throughout his life.

Tom Petty had a long career.  Along with his band the Heartbreakers, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

I want to focus some attention on comments that Petty made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine a few years back about the Confederate flag and the shooting of unarmed black men by the police.  One would not normally think that a rocker would be as well-rounded and enlightened as Petty, who featured the Confederate flag prominently onstage during his Southern Accents tour in 1985.
Petty spoke to Rolling Stone magazine after the flag was taken down to express remorse for his actions.  Here are some notable quotes from that interview:
  • “The Confederate flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, Florida. I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo. I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant. It was on a flagpole in front of the courthouse and I often saw it in Western movies. I just honestly didn’t give it much thought, though I should have.”

During the interview with Rolling Stone, Petty talked about the time when someone threw a confederate flag onstage at one of his concerts.  He stopped the show and gave a speech to the audience.  He said, “Look, this was to illustrate a character. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn’t who we are.”

  • “There were some boos and some cheers. But honestly, it’s a little amazing to me because I never saw one again after that speech in that one town. Fortunately, that went away, but it left me feeling stupid. That’s the word I can use. I felt stupid. If I had just been a little more observant about things going on around me, it wouldn’t have happened.”
  • “Lowering the flag from the statehouse grounds was the right decision. That flag shouldn’t have any part in our government. It shouldn’t represent us in any way. The war is over. You know, it’s a bit ironic: It’s the only time that I know of where we defeated a country in a war and then flew their flag. But Americans were on both sides of the issues. I’m sure some people still carry it to their graves.”
  • “That Southern pride gets transferred from generation to generation. I’m sure that a lot of people that applaud it don’t mean it in a racial way. But again, I have to give them, as I do myself, a “stupid” mark. If you think a bit longer, there’s bad connotations to this. They might have it at the football game or whatever, but they also have it at Klan rallies. If that’s part of it in any way, it doesn’t belong, in any way, representing the United States of America.”
  • “To this day, I have good feelings for the South in many ways. There’s some wonderful people down there. There are people still affected by what their relatives taught them. It isn’t necessarily racism. They just don’t like Yankees. They don’t like the North. But when they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it. But honestly, it all stemmed from my trying to illustrate a character. I then just let it get out of control as a marketing device for the record. It was dumb and it shouldn’t have happened.”

“When they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that”

  • “Again, people just need to think about how it looks to a black person. It’s just awful. It’s like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn’t be on flagpoles.”
  • Beyond the flag issue, we’re living in a time that I never thought we’d see. The way we’re losing black men and citizens in general is horrific. What’s going on in society is unforgivable. As a country, we should be more concerned with why the police are getting away with targeting black men and killing them for no reason. That’s a bigger issue than the flag. Years from now, people will look back on today and say, “You mean we privatized the prisons so there’s no profit unless the prison is full?” You’d think someone in kindergarten could figure out how stupid that is. We’re creating so many of our own problems.

Tom Petty’s and Prince’s commanding performance of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 RRHOF bash (posted below) is going viral again following Petty’s death.  It’s one of the most legendary performances in the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and it’s taken on even greater significance now that its two leading stars have moved on to that great gig in the sky.

In the wake of Prince’s death last year, Petty talked admirably about the moment to the New York Times:

“You see me nodding at him, to say, ‘Go on, go on.’ I remember I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a “This is going great!” kind of look. He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of ‘something really big is going down here.'”

Rest in peace Tom Petty.  And to the rest of us, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.”
Black Men In
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