A Drunken Poet's Dream

Petty: The Biography

Gator comes clean

A Drunken Poet's Dream

Son of a brutally abusive father with Cherokee bloodlines, Tom Petty sang as an outsider. The 65-year-old Gainesville, Fla., maverick opened a vein to cooperate with this gutting bio, so the river flows melancholy and mojo. Pre-Heartbreakers prose is a long road, but after "Breakdown," it's a breathless ride, Stevie Nicks latching on and FM radio inducting Petty's rattlesnake punk, blues, R&B. On the king's highway, band struggles are offset by unlikely friendships with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne, but even as his catalog unfolds, his family unravels. A workaholic survival instinct, his wife's mental illness, and an estranged teenage daughter color LPs Wildflowers and Echo with newfound poignancy, and some descents are wholly unexpected and shocking: Petty's midlife heroin addiction. Author Zanes empathetically captures his subject's intertwined resilience and frailty: a survivor who may never be at peace, but who's made peace with his past.

Petty: The Biography

by Warren Zanes
Henry Holt & Company, 336 pp., $30

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