Tom Petty, heartland rocker with dark streak, dead at 66
Tom Petty, heartland rocker with dark streak, dead at 66
His family confirmed that Petty passed away Monday evening surrounded by loved ones after a confusing day in which several media outlets reported and then retracted premature news of his death.
“On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader and friend Tom Petty,” a family statement said.
Petty early Monday suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu, just a week after he closed his career in a triumphant fashion.
The rocker had played three sold-out shows at the iconic Hollywood Bowl to wrap up a tour celebrating 40 years of his band the Heartbreakers.
He closed the encore with one of his earliest and best-known songs — “American Girl,” which tells of an ambitious girl “raised on promises” now contemplating suicide, set to guitar harmonies from the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.
The song was one of many by Petty about struggling to overcome long odds. “I Won’t Back Down,” perhaps his best-known song, took on a second life as a US patriotic anthem after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The singer and guitarist — recognizable for his shoulder-length blonde hair — delivered his vocals in short punches that let on an underlying anger, such as on “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
The rocker’s characters — small-town Americans full of aspirations but running into a wall of setbacks — reflected the hardscrabble early life of Petty.
His grandfather was a logger from Georgia rumored to have fled south to Florida after axing a man to death in an argument. Petty was born in Gainesville, the university town in northern Florida, to a belligerently drunk father who sold wholesale tobacco and candy.
Petty once recalled that his father, intoxicated and unimpressed by his son’s passion for music, once smashed up the boy’s record collection.
The future rocker said he told him, “Dad, if you’ll just leave me alone, I’ll be a millionaire by the time I’m 35.” It was a prediction that proved prophetic.
Petty, speaking in 2015 to Men’s Journal, credited his mother Kitty with saving him by making sure “to show us there was more to life than rednecks.”
“She read to me a lot. And she liked music: She had a record player and would play Nat King Cole and the ‘West Side Story’ soundtrack. I think of her every time I hear those songs,” he said.
But he remained consumed by inner rage.
“Any authority I didn’t agree with could just make me go crazy,” he said of his early life haunted by his father.
He struggled with depression most of his life and formed an addiction to heroin, although later in his life his only vice was marijuana and he instead embraced transcendental meditation to calm himself.
Petty embraced the country influences of the South, especially when he crafted the 1985 concept album “Southern Accents.”
Touring the United States, he flew a Confederate flag on stage — a decision he later regretted, telling Rolling Stone that “people just need to think about how it looks to a black person” as he likened the controversial symbol to a Nazi swastika.
In a speech in February as he was presented a lifetime award at the Grammys, Petty said he owed a debt to African Americans such as Chuck Berry whom he credited as the creators of rock ‘n’ roll.
But like so many music fans of his generation, he discovered rock ‘n’ roll via Britain when he saw The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
“I had my eyes opened like so many others and I joined the conspiracy to put black music on the popular white radio,” Petty said.
Petty in the late 1980s joined one of The Beatles, George Harrison, in a supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, that also featured Bob Dylan. The project was short-lived after the death of another member, Roy Orbison.
Fresh from the glory of the Wilburys, Petty — long backed by the Heartbreakers — in 1989 released his first solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” which featured the wistful “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” as well as “I Won’t Back Down.”
Other major hits by Petty included “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” written with David A. Stewart of New Wave duo The Eurythmics. The track’s playful video, themed around “Alice in Wonderland,” cemented Petty’s reputation as a favorite among stoners.
The three-time Grammy winner was steadfast on artistic control and had a reputation for battling with the music industry — most memorably with the 1981 album “Hard Promises” after he was angered by his label’s plan to put the store price higher than usual.
More recently, English singer Sam Smith agreed to credit Petty as a songwriter on his worldwide hit ballad “Stay With Me” due to the similarities — coincidental, by all accounts — in the chorus to worldwide hit “I Won’t Back Down.”
Saudi artist Ajlan Gharem gains global recognition for his thought-provoking work
- Ajlan Gharem traveled to Canada to present his life-sized conceptual piece “Paradise Has Many Gates” at the Vancouver Biennale
- Probing issues of religious orthodoxy, education and Islamophobia, the wall-less structure presents a paradoxical sanctuary
DENVER: Places of worship fill many roles in society — and an art installation in the shape of a mosque can invoke polarizing reactions in different lands, as Ajlan Gharem has discovered.
On June 19, the Saudi Arabian artist traveled to Canada to present his life-sized conceptual piece “Paradise Has Many Gates” at the Vancouver Biennale. An interactive installation which renders the unmistakable outline of a mosque in a skeleton cage of cold steel, the work will stand at the city’s Vanier Park — a high-profile public space also home to many museums and music festivals — for two years, during which it will host workshops, talks and performances.
“It’s not just something to show — it’s going to be a new space for ideas, for dialogue, for a new kind of conversation,” Gharem told Arab News.
It is a significant platform for a Saudi artist to exhibit at the noted open-air sculpture and performance festival, which has previously commissioned large-scale public works from Chinese A-lister Ai Weiwei, and this year will welcome Yoko Ono to accept its Distinguished Artist Award.
And it will hopefully offer a happier chapter in the work’s stormy story. “Paradise Has Many Gates” has, in the past, been suddenly pulled from two public appearances, and sparked a violent, viral, social-media debate.
Probing issues of religious orthodoxy, education and Islamophobia, the wall-less structure presents a paradoxical sanctuary. A comfy traditional rug lines the floor, yet there is threatening intent to the glaring fluorescent lights that switch on at sundown. The structure is made from the severe steel fencing normally reserved for cages and border disputes — attracting comparisons to both US military prison compound Guantanamo Bay and the fortifications used to stem the flow of refugees into Europe. The dual imagery perhaps shouts loudest at the five times of the day when the call to prayers emerges, recorded in voices drawn from a variety of Muslim-majority countries.
The installation is one of the first major works from 32-year-old Gharem — younger brother of leading Saudi conceptual artist Abdulnasser Gharem. Inspiration struck when the artist found himself approaching 30, astride a growing generational divide between the Kingdom’s elders and established traditions, and the swelling ranks of youthful voices — with estimates placing around 70 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population under 30 years of age. His website states: “The mosque is a conduit for the symbolic power wielded by all those above the unwitting individual… The mosque is the public square reincarnate but with attendance mandatory, at least socially.”
Aware of the charged nature of his subject, Gharem first erected “Paradise Has Many Gates” in the desert, an hour’s drive outside of Riyadh, conceiving the temporary structure as the subject of a four-minute short film to be presented at galleries overseas. He also shot a series of photographs before disassembling his work the following day without attracting attention. However, when he later shared an image of the piece on social media, it ignited a heated reaction he had not anticipated.
“People started saying ‘This is a mosque made of fences. It’s like a cage,’” the artist recalled. “It was posted on everyone’s account, everywhere — when I opened my timeline all I could see were pictures of the mosque with people saying something bad, or something good. That’s why I was afraid.”
That fear led Gharem to pull the photographs from their planned debut at “Ricochet,” a group show at London’s Asia House, in 2015. He eventually “had the courage” to share the images for the first time at a later exhibition, entitled “In Search of Lost Time,” at London’s Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in early 2016.
The structure itself has proved equally divisive. Later that same year, “Paradise Has Many Gates” was erected in the parking lot of Houston’s Station Museum of Contemporary Art; its first physical appearance since its brief stint in the desert. It was part of another group Saudi showcase entitled “Parallel Kingdom,” and was quickly embraced by the community as everything from a place of worship to a quiet yoga spot. After several weeks, it was all set to be packed up and shipped for exhibition in Aspen, Colorado — but organizers mysteriously pulled the plug at the last minute. Gharem’s mosque stayed in Texas all summer.
And in December, the piece’s projected four-month appearance in Bahrain was cut short after just 24 hours, when people began to use the installation as an actual mosque, and prayed inside.
Such setbacks, Gharem said, only confirmed his belief in the strength of the concept behind “Paradise Has Many Gates.”
“They couldn’t make any reason for why they’re going to take it out — they couldn’t understand… (didn’t) realize what was happening,” he said. “This is good, when you have an idea that brings people together, and you see people you are just afraid of this idea.”
The work’s two-year appearance at Vancouver will undoubtedly raise Gharem’s profile considerably, positioning him at the forefront of the emerging wave of Saudi Arabian artists finding success abroad. However, art is just a part-time calling — Gharem also serves as an elementary school mathematics teacher, a position he is in no hurry to abandon.
“For me the teaching thing is good, it gives me a chance to be among the people, among the society — the revolution is in the kids,” he said. “So, I’m a math teacher by day, and an artist by night.”
Gharem’s first significant solo work was “Mount of Mercy,” an evolving series of heartfelt photographs left by pilgrims visiting the religious site also known as Mount Arafat. Gharem drew from more than 10,000 images he has collected during repeated visits to Makkah over the past six years.
He was encouraged to find his own voice after a decade spent “helping” his famous older brother: Inspired by the lack of institutional support the younger artist encountered, the pair co-founded Gharem Studio, a nourishing, not-for-profit organization offering studio space, training, careers guidance and resources to Riyadh’s growing rank of young artists.
“The scene has really picked up in the last five years,” Gharem said. “Even just three, four years ago, you could only find 10 or 15 artists representing Saudi. Since then everyone has tried to be an artist and gone with the wave. I think now is the time for us, because everything is moving so quickly — at this time we start to see our problems, our issues… Everything is starting to reveal in front of us.
“Now the role of art is to start doing something,” he continued. “It’s the most important time to be an artist.”