Thank goodness I listened to Tom Petty. I don't mean his music, although his work with The Heartbreakers is amongst rock's finest. And his recent reunion with his old band, Mudcrutch, has resulted in an unexpectedly terrific album. What I'm talking about is, the message inherent in his decision to get back with his old gang, the idea that you CAN go home again. Because the truth is, it doesn't work for everybody.
I found this out the hard way. It all started the other afternoon when I called up my old drummer friend Chris.
"Dude," I said. "I've been checking out Tom Petty's Mudcrutch album. Got me thinking, why don't we get together and jam - you know, like back in the day?"
"Dude!" Chris shot back. This was his way of saying, "Yes!" (We have a shorthand, you see.)
Driving over to Chris's house, I started to run down my dream. Cool, I told myself. Chris and I will jam on the old tunes. Then we'll call Jack and Mole Man, and before you know it, Wild And Defiant will be reborn. It's happening!
Chris opened the door, a bottle of Maker's Mark in his hand. "Gotta get in the right headspace," he said, pushing a glass at me. Yes, it's true, back in the day, Wild And Defiant did bend a few elbows before practicing. But that was 20 years ago. And our rehearsals usually began at 9 pm, not 3pm. Still, Chris's good cheer was infectious. I downed a shot, and then Chris and I laughed our way down to his basement, ready to rock. The waiting, 20 years of it, had been the hardest part.
"What do we play?" Chris asked from behind his drum kit.
I whacked a couple of chords on my Tele and tried not to show how stumped I was. "I don't know," I said. "Why don't we try...?" It was then that I realized, not only had I forgotten how any of our songs went, I couldn't even remember their titles.
"Oh!" Chris said. "We'll do Mr. Everything." He launched into a steady intro beat. Problem was, I didn't recognize it.
"That's not our song!" I yelled. "That's somebody else's song." I had forgotten that, in the years since Wild And Defiant broke up, Chris had drummed in something like 1000 bands. Clearly, he couldn't remember our old repertoire either.
For an hour we attempted to play, but nothing sounded right. I couldn't get any of the riffs together. Chris's playing had changed too - he was great, but he was different, not the drummer I remembered. We were losing steam fast. Chris got up and dug into a huge pile of tapes. Thirty minutes and half a bottle later, he pulled out a cassette and slapped it into his aging stereo. Our hearts were beating through our chests as we listened to the sound of Wild And Defiant back in the day. Within a minute, our faces dropped:
We sucked. More than that, we sucked to the nineth power of all sucktitude. Chris looked like he could cry.
Dazed, we went outside and sat on Chris's lawn. We reminisced about old times, gigs and girls mostly. Finally I spit it out: "We just didn't have it," I said. "Tom Petty has it. We don't. Didn't. Whatever."
Chris sighed and nodded in agreement. We looked at each other and smiled. Somehow, it felt like a weight was off both our shoulders.
Yesterday Chris called to tell me that he just scored a gig playing with a wedding band. He sounded happier than he'd ever been. At last, he had what he'd always wanted, a steady job playing music. "Just do what they say," I told him. "Don't mess this up like the others."
Chris chuckled and said he wasn't going to do a thing to blow the gig. He'd learned. So had I. For one afternoon, we went home again. That was enough. And we have Tom Petty to thank for it.
By Joe Bosso