I'm going to open up this particular Sunday Jukebox entry with a little bit of a confession. I love almost any song released by Tom Petty.
And, in keeping with the theme of Halloween coming up soon, I thought that I would make the focus all about Tom Petty in this edition of the blog.
Think about it. Featuring a Tom Petty song around this time of year makes sense. He's had a career that has spanned almost four decades, has released several hit albums, was a part of three...count 'em...three bands (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Traveling Wilburys, Mudcrutch), has starred in some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, Tim Burton like music videos associated with his biggest hits, and his birthday is eleven days before Halloween!
(Not as cool as having a birthday ON Halloween, but hey, I take what I can get.)
But when it came time to choose a song to feature, I admit that I had a difficult time choosing one. Really, almost all of them are worth having a blog entry about them.
I mean, I suppose I could have chosen “Free Fallin'”, which is rumoured to be the number one song for getting comatose patients to wake up (whether its an urban legend or an actual happening, I don't know, but either way, I love the story). Unfortunately, that song was way overplayed in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 for me to care if I ever listened to that song ever again.
“Refugee” is a decent enough song. It came out in 1980, and was likely one of the songs that helped bring Tom Petty into the mainstream music scene. But that's about all of the information that I could dig up on that particular hit. Although I don't deny the coolness of the song that is “Refugee”, I feel that I wouldn't be able to do the song justice in a blog.
“Don't Come Around Here No More” was another possibility, as it peaked at #13 in 1985. And, certainly the accompanying music video was one of Tom Petty's finest achievements, using an “Alice in Wonderland” setting to tell the story of the song. But, I think I'll save that song for the time when I actually do an Alice in Wonderland blog entry. Besides, when I was five years old, I freaked out at the scene in which the band cuts open Alice as if she were a living, breathing Bundt cake.
And, we won't even discuss the travesty of the 1996 hit single “Walls”. Not because of the fact that it is a terrible song (it's not great, but I didn't mind it), but because it will forever be associated with the horrible Jennifer Aniston movie “She's The One”. Yeah, that's a movie that I really want to forget.
So, I was left with a quandary. What Tom Petty songs were left? “The Waiting”? “You Got Lucky”? “Runnin' Down A Dream?”
But then I got to thinking...you know, Matthew, Halloween is coming up very soon...and well, why not do a song that features something scary?
And, well...here was my pick!
ARTIST: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
SONG: Mary Jane's Last Dance
ALBUM: Greatest Hits
DATE RELEASED: November 16, 1993
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #14
All right, so let's get the video out of the way, shall we?
The music video was well-received by the public, even scoring an MTV Video Music Award in 1994 for Best Male Video. Of course, the video had a lot going for it. A modest budget, a huge Hollywood starlet making a cameo (Kim Basinger), and a great, albeit incredibly morbid and creepy plotline.
Tom Petty plays a morgue assistant who obviously must have graduated right out of the nearest psychiatric institution, as during the whole first part of the video, we see that something isn't quite right with him. It's only until he unzips the body bag of a beautiful young, dead woman (played by Basinger) that we really discover how twisted a freak he really is.
Apparently he is a necrophiliac.
(A necrophiliac, of course, is someone that has a sexual fetish for people who are...well...dead in the sack...and then some.)
So, Tom, the morgue assistant/necrophiliac decides that he wants to go on a date. Never mind that the object of his affection is unable to tell him yes, no, or is able to pepper spray his creepy looking eyes...she really has no say in the matter. She's dead. I honestly don't know how he managed to smuggle a corpse out of the morgue without his supervisor saying anything, or at the very least chasing after him through the hallways. Oh, well...I don't work in a morgue, so I'm not entirely sure what the protocol is.
Tom ends up driving his corpse bride back to his house (which looks haunted from the outside), and tries to make her feel comfortable by sitting her on the sofa to watch television on a retro 1960s television set. Which would be great if our corpse could actually SEE the screen and HEAR the show! But, again, I keep telling myself that Tom the morgue assistant is one lime green cereal piece short of a box of Trix.
Now here's where things get even weirder. After dressing her up in what appears to be a dual-purpose prom/wedding dress, putting bright red lipstick on her, and serving her dinner (a rather creative way to waste food if you ask me), Tom lights a whole bunch of candles, and re-enacts his favourite episode of “Dancing With The Corpses”!
TRIVIA: In all seriousness, the candle scene was based off of a passage from the Charles Dickens novel “Great Expectations”, and no harm was done to either Petty or Basinger during the filming of that scene...which is good, since accidental cremation would have just ruined the whole night.
Eventually, Tom decides that his new friend isn't lively enough for him, so he carries her to the beach, and buries her at sea. How romantic. But wait...did you see her eyes open up at the very end of the music video? This can only mean one of two things...she either faked her death so she could have one last fling with someone else (no matter how creepy they were), or the water turned her into a flesh-eating zombie.
Yeah, let's go with that second explanation. Zombies are always the best explanation.
Now, that might be the storyline of the music video. But does the storyline of “Mary Jane's Last Dance” match the video? Well, I suppose if the dead corpse that Kim Basinger played was named Mary Jane, it might have some sort of meaning.
The more I listen to the lyrics though, the more I think that it has absolutely nothing to do with the creepy video. In fact, it could have a couple of meanings behind it.
I'm not going to beat around the bush here. Everyone who is at least 20-something or over knows that the phrase “Mary Jane” is a slang term for the drug known as marijuana. I personally have never tried the stuff myself (nor do I want to as the stench of it makes me want to hurl), but a lot of people do use it, including people who are suffering from painful diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and arthritis. The reason being that marijuana is a drug that has been proven to kill pain, and thus many people use its healing benefits as a way to feel better. So, I suppose one way you could look at the song is that it is in reference to someone who is sick, dying, or just needs one more dose of “Mary Jane” to kill the pain.
DISCLAIMER: I am NOT advocating drug use in this blog. I'm merely explaining one of the possible meanings of this song.
And, certainly Mike Campbell (the guitarist for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) has not confirmed nor denied this possibility...just that it was just one interpretation.
I suppose one can also say that the song meaning is all about losing your first love, and it could be a song saying goodbye to Mary Jane the girl, instead of Mary Jane the drug. And I can absolutely take that meaning and run with it as well.
I guess as far as this song goes, it really is up to interpretation.
One final note before I close off this blog entry for today. Campbell also mentioned that the song's original title wasn't “Mary Jane's Last Dance”. You might have noticed that the first verse of the song has quite a few references to the state of Indiana within it. That's because the original title was supposed to be “Indiana Girl”, and the chorus was supposed to go like this. “Hey, Indiana girl, go out and find the world”.
For whatever reason, the band just didn't think the line blended well with the rest of the song at all, and the track's producer, Rick Rubin, outright hated it and changed the lyrics about a week after the chorus was penned. I think that it was a smart decision.
After all, we don't want any woman from the state of Indiana thinking she's a stiff!