'Runnin' Down' a New Petty Documentary Along with his band The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty has long personified the sound and spirit of good, strong, American rock 'n' roll music. A new documentary by Peter Bogdanovich tells the story of the band's lengthy career. It's four hours long.
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'Runnin' Down' a New Petty Documentary

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'Runnin' Down' a New Petty Documentary

'Runnin' Down' a New Petty Documentary

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have been rock and roll stars for 30 years and have lived to tell about it.

(Soundbite of song, "You Wreck Me")

Mr. TOM PETTY (Vocals, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers): (Singing) Tonight we ride, right or wrong. Tonight we sail on a radio song.

SIMON: Since their beginnings in the early '70s, as Mudcrutch in Gainesville, Florida, a few hits like "American Girl," "Breakdown" and "Free Fallin," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have always personified the sound and the spirit of good, strong American rock and roll.

Mr. EDDIE VEDDER (Lead Vocals, Pearl Jam): The first time you hear a new Tom Petty song, it sounds like, you know, a classic song.

SIMON: That's Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam from a new documentary about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It's called "Runnin' Down a Dream." The film is directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who, of course, also directed "The Last Picture Show," "Paper Moon" and "Mask." Both Tom Petty and Peter Bogdanovich join us now from our studios in New York.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. PETTY: Thank you for having us.

Mr. PETER BOGDANOVICH (Director, "Runnin' Down a Dream"): It's nice to be here.

SIMON: And I have to ask you, well, different parts of the same question. Mr. Bogdanovich, why Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers? And Mr. Petty, why Peter Bogdanovich - of all the filmmakers you could work with?

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Who goes first?

SIMON: Why don't you try it, Mr. Bogdanovich?

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Well, I was asked if I would be interested in doing a documentary about Tom and his work. And I didn't know that much about the story until I met with Tom. I mean, of course, I'd heard some of the music. But I didn't know it, and one of the reasons I did it - I was interested in doing it was because I wanted to learn about it. And I thought that the fact that I was a journey of learning - a journey of discovery on my part was - I hope I could communicate that to the audience.

SIMON: And Mr. Petty, certainly, a distinguished director. But did you ever think for a moment, well, maybe somebody who knew - was a little most firsthand familiar with my music would be better?

Mr. PETTY: No, not at all. I liked the idea of Peter doing it because he's always - besides a great filmmaker, he's always been such an excellent biographer. And I love what he had done with Orson Welles and John Ford, and I didn't want this to go down the behind the music rock doc kind of thing. So many rock documentaries are so predictable and not very interesting. And I think our story was a unique one, and I knew he would make an honest film.

SIMON: We want to play a clip where you took the band out west and seemed to have an ethereal confidence that you could get a record contract.

(Soundbite of documentary, "Runnin' Down a Dream")

Mr. PETTY: Our first stop was Playboy Records. In those days that would be big the Playboy bunny emblem on the side. And we must have looked very funny. I mean, just having driven 3,000 miles. And he brings us in the office. Look, guys. It's not done this way. You just don't walk in. And we're - well, we're here and there's the tape deck and why don't you put it on and listen, you know?

SIMON: What gave you that confidence?

Mr. PETTY: Well, there was so many record companies on that one street. I figured that if I went to all of them, I certainly would get a deal by the end of the road. We've had great success in our region without a record and, you know, in down South. And we just felt that, you know, we had a great demo tape, we feel, and we just knew that somebody was going to hear it and respond to it.

(Soundbite of song, "On The Street")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing) I saw you walking down the street with him. You know I almost could've died.

We had a lot of rejection, of course. But we did, after a few days, have two or three people that wanted to sign us - two or three companies.

SIMON: Mr. Bogdanovich, what do you think you've learned as a filmmaker through working this way and taking this on?

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: First of all, I learned a lot about Tom and the band, and I've became a groupie, frankly. I just loved the music and enjoyed the process.

Mr. PETTY: The first time Peter came to a rehearsal, he was standing about 15 feet away from the band. And we kicked in and I just - I saw his hair stand straight up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PETTY: And he said, my God, I don't think I've ever been that close to a band before, you know?

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: It was a (unintelligible) extraordinary to go on a concert, on the tour. And I would sit on the stage, in the darkness, over to the side. And I really liked being on the stage and seeing it from that angle as we had a camera nearby. And I would watch Tom and he'd lift his hands over his arms over his head and he'd clap his hands. And I'd look - just pan my eyes over to the right, and there's 80,000 people doing exactly the same thing. I thought, I'm in the wrong business.

(Soundbite of song, "American Girl")

Mr. PETTY: Yeah. Now, he can't leave rock and roll. It's really - it's hard for him.

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Yeah, it is.

Mr. PETTY: You know, we made him a rock and roller.

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Yeah, it's true. But I wouldn't - I'm not going to do another one like it.

Mr. PETTY: No. It could kill you doing another one.

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Yeah. I just couldn't do it.

(Soundbite of song, "American Girl")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing) Well, she was an American girl. Raised on promises. She couldn't help thinking that there was a little more to life somewhere else.

SIMON: I want to play a clip, if we could. Stevie Nicks making a confession for the historical record.

Ms. STEVIE NICKS (Singer, Songwriter): I think I have started to become aware of Tom Petty around 1977. 1978, a big fan of Tom Petty. If Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have said leave Fleetwood Mac and come and join us, I would probably have joined Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

SIMON: What would you have done if you'd known that, Mr. Petty?

Mr. PETTY: Oh, I think I did know it. She confided on several occasions. And I just always told her, well, we just don't have any girls in the group, Stevie. You know, it's kind of a - it's a men's club, you know?

(Soundbite of song, "Free Fallin'")

SIMON: Is it even a little daunting to kind of see your personal and professional life up there on screen and think, gee, this is what I stand for -this is more than a generation?

Mr. PETTY: Well, it is daunting, yeah. And I'm just - I don't know. I feel pretty blessed, really, right now, when I see it that, you know, most of us made it through that maze that is, you know, growing up in rock and roll. And I think that we've matured in a way that we are - we're maybe better now, you know, maybe better musicians and enjoying our craft more than we ever have. So I'm very lucky.

SIMON: Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. PETTY: Thank you for having us.

Mr. BOGDANOVICH: Thank you. Thanks for asking, yeah.

SIMON: Peter Bogdanovich and Tom Petty, talking about the new film about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It's called "Runnin' Down a Dream."

By the way, "Runnin' Down a Dream" can currently be seen on the Sundance channel and in a few theaters across the country.

(Soundbite of song, "Free Fallin'")

Mr. PETTY: (Singing) And I'm free. Free fallin'.

SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Scott Simon.

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