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Tom Petty & The Decline of Culture & The Music Industry

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I don’t recall when I first heard “The Last DJ” (2002) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, it was one of my dad’s favorite songs, I’m sure I heard it from him at some point. Like most great artwork, it was something that struck me immediately and continued to develop and grow as time went on and I had the capacity to understand it on higher levels.

The song itself is defiant, not in the same manner as 1989’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Defiant in a way that is less about personal conviction, and more about a man launching a salvo at an imposing edifice. That edifice, the music industry, the state of culture, and what society is willing to accept from those at the top of the culture industry.

The opening verse;

Well you can’t turn him into a company man
You can’t turn him into a whore
And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore
Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t wanna change what don’t need to change

The triumphant and rebellious chorus;

And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey hey hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
And there goes the last DJ

The second verse;

And some folks say they’re gonna hang him so high
Cause you just can’t do what he did
There’s some things you just can’t put in the minds of those kids
As we celebrate mediocrity all the boys upstairs wanna see
How much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free

(chorus, middle-8 with a radio host in the background)

Final verse;

Well he got a new station down in Mexico
And some times it will kinda come in
And I’ll bust a move
And remember how it was back then


(outro, guitar, static, a few lone piano notes)


Opening Verse: Here, Tom Petty is describing himself ostensibly, but also everybody who is rebelling against the status quo and cultural hegemony. In an era that is increasingly materialistic, hyper-atomized, characterized by status-seeking in social media and job titles. There are people who are absolute “company men” in every sense of the word. They don’t own themselves at all, they are bought and paid for, they’ll do anything their boss asks, no matter how ridiculous or immoral. Why? Because they are in debt, leasing cars, putting on a show, they’ve sold themselves for fake status symbols and are effectively whores. A few trinkets and a nice job title to impress people at cocktail parties was all it took. The price for men’s souls has never been lower.

The next two lines are about the music industry and culture industry executives, “the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore.” The people with corner offices in the glass-plated high-rise buildings, looking down from many stories above, have never been more disconnected and alien. “the top brass don’t like him talking so much,” of course. Rebels do nothing but throw monkey wrenches into the wicked gears of “progress.” Those speaking their minds are a grave danger to this hostile system. The boys upstairs likely never did understand from the start, but they have been getting worse.

“And he won’t play what they say to play / And he don’t wanna change what don’t need to change.” A musician not doing what the producers and record executives tell him to do. People with views that go against the grain of this culture that is primarily manufactured and foreign to us. Being unwilling to change in an era of constant dragon chasing and 12-hour news cycles is viewed as a serious weakness, if not an outright mental illness. Some of us prefer the gods of old.

Second Verse: Culturally lynched for your views, there are just some things you cannot say or do within the confines of modernity and “polite society,” and if you dare try to escape, your punishment will be harsh.

The celebration of mediocrity has never been more present than today. Awards are given for lies, peace prizes given to war criminals, brutalist and deconstruction architects are given awards from architectural committees filled with their relatives. We are surrounded by people being elevated to demi-god status for pushing a backward and degenerate culture.

“all the boys upstairs wanna see how much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free.” Likely the most important line in the entire song and perhaps most prescient. Everything is commoditized. The prices have never been higher and the value has never been lower. It’s a game to them, to see what you’ll pay for these simulacra they sell. Not authentic experiences anymore, merely the illusion of one.

Final Verse: The last DJ took off. He’s opting out. He is no longer going to play this rigged game. He will still carry on, weary as he may be because the torch must remain lit through the long nights. He’s down in Mexico somewhere running a pirate radio station, and we’ll all tune in and remember how things were. We’ll think of how things could have been, and look forward to what can be once more.

Chorus: The Last DJ, a man riding the tiger, a man against time, a man walking through the ruins of civilization. All the same energy. Evolian, Nietzschean, and as an avatar. The last DJ must remain, he is the last chance at freedom, the last human voice. For those who proclaim to speak on our behalf, the “top brass,” “the boys upstairs,” those who celebrate mediocrity, they are nothing like us. They are something “other” something entirely foreign. The last DJ is living a refugee in the realm that should have been his. Yet he will return.

The criticism of the culture industry, materialism, and conspicuous consumerism are wrapped in the sound of rock n’ roll romanticism. It’s heartfelt, at times somber, and we are left wondering if the last DJ is going to make it not. Maybe he’ll be drowned out in the end, maybe that flickering torch he still bears will burn down the entire rotten establishment.

Life and Times

Tom Petty is not a stranger to conflict with record executives, much the opposite, he’s quite the veteran. At one point, Petty’s label was purchased by MCA, a far larger company, Petty objected, noting he felt like he was being “bought and sold like a piece of meat.” The contract terms were not favorable to Petty, so he breached, went in debt to finance his next record, then filed for bankruptcy, and refused to release the album Damn the Torpedoes that would give us “Refugee.” A high-risk high-reward strategy turning on the bankruptcy court allowing Petty to get out of his contract. It worked. MCA then signed Petty and the Heartbreakers with a far more favorable record deal.

Within two-years Petty was in another large dispute with MCA, the company wanted to release his album Hard Promises with a price of $1.00 higher than standard albums, up from the typical price of about $9.00 in 1981. Petty saw this as needless greed, even going to the press with his grievance to pressure MCA into bending the knee. Petty stood his ground and did not back down. MCA blinked. Petty won again. Beyond no stranger to conflict, Petty ascended to the status of warrior-poet.

In 1987, an arsonist drenched the back deck of his home in lighter fluid and set it ablaze. His home destroyed, nearly everything was lost. It was an event Petty would say bothered him for many years to come. Petty wrote the 1989 classic, “I Won’t Back Down” in response to those who tried to destroy his life and perhaps kill him and his  family who were home at the time.

There was no suspect for the fire, nobody was ever charged, but there was an odd rumor of disputes happening between Petty and members of the music-elite at the time. This is all, of course, mere rumor. Believe what you wanna believe.

I Won’t Back Down;

You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
I won’t back down

Indeed, there’s no easy way out, so for now, we’ll keep running down the dream.


**” Damn The Torpedoes” referrers to the American Civil War naval battle of Mobile Bay where the order was given to move the ship onward, to which a crewman replied there are naval mines in the way, and the captain replied: “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The accuracy and even reality of this event are questioned by historians, but the saying remains all the same. The relevance to Petty is that despite his legal and financial troubles at the time, he would forge ahead knowing the waters were dangerous and full of peril.

Tom Petty’s two major labels were MCA and Warner Brothers.

MCA was formed in 1924 by Jules Stein.

Warner Brothers was founded in 1923 by HarryAlbertSam, and Jack Warner.



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  1. Bernie
    Posted December 13, 2019 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I was a big Tom Petty fan in high school and have all of his albums (actually cassettes) from 1979-89. Southern Accents (1985) is an excellent album with “Dogs on the Run,” “Mary’s New Car” “Spike” and “Southern Accents” among his best songs. He toured with a Confederate flag to support the album and his backup singers were called “The Rebelettes” (though I think one was black).

    He later apologized for using the Confederate flag and did fundraising concerts for Democrats. The proud Southern boy from Gainesville had literally and figuratively relocated to LA.

  2. Fenek Solere
    Posted December 13, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Dear Richard,
    Tom Petty was an excellent artist. Like Bernie, I remember those ‘Southern-isms’ very fondly. I used to play a greatest hits double CD of his in my car driving down the A2 through Kent in England imagining I was in Alabama or Kentucky or somewhere like that. Your article evoked fond memories of a fine man. Always enjoy your pieces on CC.

  3. Frank Walus
    Posted December 13, 2019 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Tom Petty was in a popular band in Gainsville called Mudcrutch. They decided to hit the big time, rent a truck and head for California in search of a recording contract. Petty tells the story of looking in the phone book for record company addresses. The first one they came across was Playboy Records, so upstairs they went with their demo tape. The executive was none too interested, said they needed an appointment, but they convinced them that, because they were already there, he might as well have a listen. After 30 seconds of the demo, he ran them out of his office. They continued on their way and funny thing was, by the end of the day they had an offer from one company to make a single and another for an album. So not all of the execs were too incompetent to realize that they had Tom Petty and (what came to be) the Heartbreakers on their hands. Petty did get ripped off big time in his first contract though, giving away the lucrative publishing rights to his music.

  4. Marius
    Posted December 15, 2019 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Sinatra’s birthday. Interestingly, he also appears in the latest Janich video: as the promoted star of the “Kosher Nostra” – the most powerful mafia organization that ever existed. Although or precisely because Hollywood (for understandable reasons) never made them a theme, but only the Italian Mafia, which was not half as powerful. For people who don’t speak German, some information can be found in the links shown in the video (Janich always tries to present only generally accessible MSM articles because of the threat of Youtube censorship), some of which can also be found in the video description.

  5. Mariuss
    Posted December 15, 2019 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Posted December 15, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The music industry is bad for music. We need to repeal the digital copyright and let donations be musicians’ main source of income.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 15, 2019 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      That and live performances.

  7. d_malaparte
    Posted December 16, 2019 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    With a few singular exceptions (articles in praise of Scott Walker, Marc Bolan & Laibach), the views on rock music here at Counter-Currents are positively cretinous.

    I should somehow how forward my 99% white, 1100-song dual Spotify playlists to Mnsr Greg Johnson

    • d_malaparte
      Posted December 18, 2019 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      I wish to retract this comment. I was rather pixilated by wine. In truth, I am a great fan of Richard Houck’s writing. I just happen to hate Tom Petty and Bob Dylan (his band mate in the Traveling Wilburys).

      Further, in addition to pieces on Scott Walker, Marc Bolan, and Laibach, CC published a great series on Morrissey not so long ago.

      So, I retract my comment above in full.

  8. Karl
    Posted December 18, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi guys! Is your typical inbred trisomy son of a chimpanzee and a mongoloid nigger whore (your hyper-embarasding pederastic “administrator”) still not in his hustler bed with his many smelly dripping HIV-infested negro schlongs feeding his pederast ass?

    This American “superhuman” with his third-rate genes certainly extends his fear-motivated “superresponsibility” until well after midnight again to compensate his hereditary racial inferiority complex! What a mess of a “human” wreck this bloody dirty fucking “shithole” is!

    You all have to fire this ultimate moron very soon, he belongs into a whorehouse for your Jewmurican AIDS-niggers, but not in one of your degenerate “web forums” for so called Jewmurican “patriots”!

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted December 18, 2019 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      And yet you still want to spam our comment section. Sad.

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