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Mary Jane’s Last Dance: A Tribute to Tom Petty

October 3, 2017

While reeling in the midst of unimaginable national tragedy, the world lost another rock ‘n’ roll icon and cannabis advocate in the ineffable and remarkable Tom Petty.

“I’m mostly a reefer guy. It’s a musical drug.”

Petty suffered from cardiac arrest in his home and was later taken off life support at UCLA Medical Center the evening of October 2nd. He was 66 years old.

Mr. Integrity was his nickname and one he lived up to–in fact, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame credits Petty for convincing her to check herself into rehab for an addiction to Klonopin. “I did all I could to talk her into getting some help and getting right,” Petty told Rolling Stone. “I was very worried about her. To the point that if the phone did ring and they said ‘Stevie died,’ I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers formed in 1975 and signed on with Shelter Records, releasing “Breakdown” and “American Girl” under the label.

Throughout his storied career, Petty held fast to his principles. In 1979, the band was dragged into a legal dispute when Shelter’s distributor, ABC Records, was purchased by MCA Records. Petty refused to be transferred to another record label, instead filing for bankruptcy in order to renegotiate contracts to protect himself and the bandmates. He refused, in his words, to be “bought and sold like a piece of meat.”

While preparing to release Hard Promises, their fourth album, Petty and the Heartbreakers again ran into trouble with their record label. MCA’s Backstreet label wanted to sell the album for $9.98, which was considered “superstar pricing” compared to an album’s typical list price of $8.98. Petty protested the price hike and the issue became well-known among his fans. Eventually, MCA decided against the price increase. The album was released and included one of his first collaborations with Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, the song “The Waiting.”

In 1985, Petty and the band began to experiment with a more psychedelic sound. The album Southern Accents included an Alice in Wonderland-inspired song, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” with Petty dressed as the Mad Hatter chasing Alice through Wonderland, eventually dropping her into a cup of tea and then eating her slice by slice as if she were a sheet cake.

The band released the hit album Into the Great Wide Open in 1991, which included the titular track as well as the hit “Learning to Fly.” At this point, drummer Stan Lynch left the band and Petty embarked on his own solo journey. The song “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was the last the two recorded together before parting ways. One of his most famous seemingly sly references to cannabis, Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell insists that it was simply a sad love song to an “Indiana girl on an Indiana night.”

Petty recorded his first solo album, Wildflowers, in 1994. Instead of dancing around with inscrutable lyrics, in the album’s main track, “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” Petty sang the lyrics “Let’s get to the point, and roll another joint.” Another song penned by Petty entitled “Girl on LSD” contained the lyrics “ecstasy, crystal meth and glue/I found no drug compares to you/all these pills, all this weed/I dunno just what I need.” Unsurprisingly, Warner Bros. Records vetoed the song, citing it as too controversial.

With newfound freedom as a solo artist, Petty began speaking more candidly about his drug use. He never enjoyed drinking, and although he “went through the 80s like everybody,” had never been a fan of cocaine. He admitted that for all his vices, cannabis was his favorite. “I’m mostly a reefer guy. It’s a musical drug,” he says in an interview with Men’s Journal. When asked if he would get a medical recommendation, he just laughed and told them, “I’ve had a pipeline of marijuana since 1967.”

One of Petty’s favorite cannabis-related pastimes was to learn about history. Whenever he visited Washington, DC, he’d “wait until it’s really late, get stoned, go to Jefferson Memorial and just sit there and read the walls. I’ve done that a few times.”

In a Rolling Stones interview, medical marijuana once again got brought up to Petty. While he didn’t have a recommendation, the musician noted, “I’m certain that I’ve smoked some medical marijuana, yeah. It’s everywhere. I don’t smoke pot as much as I did at one point. But I think the cat’s out of the bag, and it’s gonna be legalized. If you’re gonna sell liquor, you have to sell pot. Liquor’s worse for you. I don’t think pot’s addictive–I never felt like I had to have it, you know. Actually, no, I take that back,” he said, laughing, before adding, “But it is safer than alcohol.”

We’ll miss you, Mr. Petty. Thanks for taking us into the great wide open.

Lisa Rough's Bio Image
Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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