Tom Petty’s Family Won’t Back Down.

His wife Dana, daughters Adria & Annakim, and first wife Jane unite to oppose Trump’s usage of “I Won’t Back Down”

In a rare show of unity, the family of Tom Petty has come together to express their outratge over Trump’s usage of Tom’s song “I Won’t Back Down” at his recent campaign rally. 

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His widow Dana, daughters Annakim and Adria, and first wife Jane joined together to issue a cease-and-desist order to Trump and his campaign to stop any future usage of this song forever. They also posted a message online which clearly explained their reasons for taking this action. 

The statement from the family; Dana, Adria, Annakim & Jane Petty. 

Tom Petty’s song, “I Won’t Back Down” was used today at Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK.  

Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind.

Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together.

Tom wrote this song for the underdog, the common man and for EVERYONE. We want to make it clear that we believe everyone is free to vote as they like, think as they like, but the Petty family doesn’t stand for this. We believe in America and we believe in democracy. But Donald Trump is not representing the noble ideas either. We would hate for fans that are marginalized by this administration to think we were complicit in this usage. Concurrently we have issued an official cease-and-desist notice to the Trump campaign. 

Dana, Adria, Annakim and Jane Petty

It isn’t the first time a candidate has used a beloved rock anthem, only to find themselves castigated for that usage by the artist. In 1984, the campaign to reelect Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at their rallies. It was a classic example of a famously ironic song being misunderstood.

This public gaffe inspired Reagan’s opponent, Walter Mondale to comment, in one of his finest moments in his losing effort,  “Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run but he wasn’t born yesterday,”

In this instance, the circumstances differ. Evidently, the Trump campaign had no problem understanding the meaning of the song. But by using it to promote policies and promises which the family feels promote hate and division, it is a violation of Tom’s core ethics and consistent message of unity over the years.

Unity mattered to him. Unity among all people was the idea. Yet he knew it had to start here at home, and being a Southerner who long ago left his home to live in California, he knew better than anyone that the causes of the Civil War in America have never been truly resolved. The vision of a unified America is a vision for which this war was waged and won. Yet it’s a conflict that still rages in our country, and which Trump has adopted in hope it will help his campaign, as it did in terms of getting him, essentially, elected for his first term.

So any usage of a Tom Petty song for this purpose is clearly not what Tom would have wanted, and shows egregious disrepect for him, his family, his fans and his legacy, as is any defense of this usage.

In social media, incendiary passion has been posted on both sides of this issue almost immediately. Tom’s fans from both sides of the political spectrum expressed both support and opposition. 

“So let me get this straight,” posted a fan who is also a Trump supporter, “he wrote this for everyone except for Republicans?”

No, that is not what they meant. Their statement and intention was not to excoriate all Republicans; it’s specifically aimed at Trump supporters who endorse what the family perceives to be  hateful and divisive anti-American rhetoric, as well as intentional lies and misinformation and lies designed to deceive the public, all in an effort to help Trump to be reelected. 

Benmont Tench, keyboard genius and founding member of The Heartbreakers, posted his own statement directed at any fans of the band who have missed the point of this action, and question their right to speak on Tom’s behalf. 

Using language even stronger and more direct than that used by the family in their statement, the beloved Benmont did not back down in his attempt at reason and clarification.  

“I hear that Donald Trump has used Tom’s song, `I Won’t Back Down’ at his rally,” wrote Benmont. “I agree wholeheartedly with the statement made by Tom’s family.”

Benmont amplified his statement by writing, “And I in no way approve of Trump even whistling any piece of music associated with the band. I hope that’s clear enough.”

Although Tom has always had a reputation for being an easy-going guy who would never challenge anyone’s expression of politics, it’s a prevalent but erroneous idea of who the man was. His intention was always to be true in his songs, whether true to a character who is narrating the song, or true to himself.

“I Won’t Back Down,” unlike “Rebels” and “The Last DJ” are not written from a character’s point of view. It is Tom speaking in the song. That is the real guy, not a pose. As his fans know, he did not back down on issues he felt mattered the most.

Most famously, one of the first issues about which he refused to back down was when his record label, MCA, decided to raise the cost of his albums by one dollar. He was chosen as the first artist on the label to have his albums sold at the new price. He fought this immediately and without apology, presuming some of his peers would join him. They did not. Yet Tom prevailed, and the company agreed not to make that change at that time.

There are countless examples of his ongoing battles with forces he felt impinged on the purity of his music and expression. Many times politicians he did not support would use his music, knowing of its universal and inspirational appeal. Every time this happened, they would be asked directly to stop. 

In 2000, the campaign to elect George W. Bush for president used the same song at rallies for their candidate, who was then running against Democratic nominee Al Gore. A cease-and-desist letter was sent from his publisher to the campaign. The next night he performed the song at a fundraiser for Gore.

Tom wrote “I Won’t Back Down” with Jeff Lynne, one of many the two created in a single day for inclusion on Full Moon Fever, the solo album they created together. 

Tom wrote the music on piano, and wrote the main riff. Jeff Lynne wrote the verse melody, to which Tom quickly wrote the lyrics. That was usually his approach, especially with Lynne, with whom he was writing a song a day for the album. This wasn’t simply diligence driving them to work so fast. It was joy. Tom was having the time of his life, and that fun and love is injected directly into that music and those tracks. 

But if any lyrics were written in haste and seemed weak to him, he would do his best to rewrite them.

Originally he had a lyric for the song,  “I’m standing on the edge of the world.”  His great friend George Harrison was in town, and came to the studio to record backup harmonies. In our book Conversations with Tom Petty, Tom recalled that George helped with this song by mentioning a line he felt was weak.

Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne in Hollywood. Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter.

Tom said, “I had the line, `standing on the edge of the world.’ George said, `What the hell is that? Certainly there must be something better.’”

So Tom replaced it with “There ain’t no easy way out.” Which he didn’t think was great, but better than what he had, which as George told him, was a “dumb line.” 

“I’m really glad that I got all the dumb lines out,” Tom said, “because it’s a song that, apparently, a lot of people have been inspired by. I get a lot of people telling me, either through the mail or in person, how that song has played a role in helping them in some way in their life;  how it’s given them conviction to get over a certain obstacle in their life.”

Always a tough critic of his own work, Tom worried, after completing this one, that it was too direct and obvious in its message. He felt at first that it would have benefited from some songwriterly misdirection. 

“When I first wrote that song,” said Tom in our book, “I thought, `This might not be right because it’s so blunt; there’s not a lot of metaphor in it. There’s not a lot of hiding behind anything. It’s very blunt. But I think that bluntness may have been what inspired people. It’s one of my more well-known songs. I just have to do it in shows or people feel let down. I’m really happy to have written that one.”

Soon he found that its simple direct message was its strength. Sure, some people used it as an anthem for battles he would not have endorsed. But generally it was for a good cause. He said few things made him happier than learning how the song empowered people when they needed it most.

“It’s really gratifying,” he said, “I even saw an article in a paper about a girl coming out of a coma listening to that song. It had been her favorite song.”

Generally, Tom welcomed the usage of the song to benefit a good cause, such as when Eddie Vedder wanted to use it to protest the murder of David Gunn, a pro-choice doctor who was killed in Pensacola in 1993. Vedder, unlike the campaigns of Bush and Trump, first called Petty to get his approval.

Tom gave his approval, and said, “The song is there to be used.”

By this statement he meant `used’ in a positive way. Usage of it by anyone projecting a hateful or divisive message was never the intention. Tom’s family, respecting his spirit, took this legal action with complete understanding that Tom would object to Trump using this or any of his songs. Though the family members have not agreed on everything related to Tom and his estate, on this issue they have a completely unified front. His first wife, Jane, as well as his widow Dana and his daughters, Annakim and Adria, all agreed on this, and took this action together. 

Tom’s mission in music has always one of unity and inclusion. Few things made him happier, as he said several times, than the recognition that his songs appealed to all ages and all kinds of people.

But as his family and fans know well, he was a man of conviction. Despite the laid-back image of him that so many still harbor, the truth remains that he was the rare popular artist who would oppose any actions or expression he deemed hateful and detrimental to human harmony, even when it was at risk of harming himself professionally.

He wasn’t naive, though. He knew it is impossible to stand up for principles in America without alienating some portion of the populace. He didn’t like to do it. He truly loved all of America – the South and the North. But sometimes this was a risk he felt compelled to take, as he did many times.

One of the most powerful examples of this conviction is when Tom, a Southerner with pride in his heritage, waved a Confederate flag in concert while performing his Southern anthem, “Rebels.” Fans got the wrong idea from his, as if it was a signal that Tom supported the Confederacy. He did not. “Rebels” was a song about that character; it is not meant to be Tom. But many fans did not take it that way, and his flag-waving of that flag was received as a tacit invitation to bring and wave their flags at his shows. 

Never did he want to alienate any fans, and certainly not those from the South, where his roots are firmly planted. But the man did possess authentic purity and self-respect, and his was a heart of real empathy. So he took this risk, knowing it could anger fans. But he did not want any confusion to linger about his feelings, that the flag is a symbol of hate. And Tom opposed hate. 

So those who are outraged and posting on social media that his family had no right to do this and speak on his behalf should understand the truth of Tom Petty. The man opposed hate. He opposed sham and deception. He opposed anyone who intentionally tried to succeed by dividing the people of America.

So there should be no question that the family has every right to do this, and are in complete accord with Tom’s convictions.  Never would he have approved any usage of any of his songs to help Trump, whose words and policies represent the extreme opposite of everything for which he fought, and did not back down. 

On this issue, unlike others for which he fought, Tom would not be alone. For years Trump has used music to inspire his crowds only to be asked, over and over, not to use their songs. Artists who have requested that Trump cease from using their songs include Neil Young, Adele, Pharrell, Earth, Wind & Fire, Queen, The Rolling Stones and Rihanna.

Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles for the final show of his 40th Anniversary Tour with The Heartbreakers, September 25, 2017. Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter

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