I took off out of Illinois knowing I wouldn’t be back anytime soon and had no intention of missing it. Jon was taking a flight back to Minnesota to see his father and then was all set with tickets to meet me in Georgia. It was happening, and I could feel it.
I couldn’t tell right away just what the feeling was. It was a sharp pain to the gut like you’re forgetting something important or nervous as hell. The type of pain that sticks in your side and pulls at your stomach to remind you about it every few minutes or so. It’s the feeling that something big is going to change and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
“And it’s hard to say who you are these days, but you run on anyway…You keep running for another place to find that saving grace”
A few days out and a few shows down and it hits me. This is my mid-life crisis. When I was younger I liked to imagine it as a time when I would completely break free of every part of my life. But in actuality, here it was, happening; real and in the moment and I was still doing the same things I had always done. I just kept on driving, and kept on setting up and tearing down stage equipment night after night. Nothing had changed but I was different.
Thursday night found me in Nashville drinking Hennessy at a little bar just down the road from music row and listening to Hank Williams on the jukebox just like some sap in the movies. Jon was still four states away and seven days away and I had nothing better to do in Nashville that night but drink.
“I swear I see your face up there with the satellites looking down from outer space. Me, I'm drifting home again”
I had taken my truck from the hotel to the bar and it was a sorry mistake because it meant that I had to drive it back too. The alcohol in my stomach swished and I could hear it echo between my ears as I drove down the nearly empty city streets. I shouldn’t have done it and I could hear what pieces of conscience I have left whispering over and over about what a bad idea it was. Not so much for the lack of motor skills but for the inevitable fact that I was in Nashville and the late night DJs are fond of playing every song about heartbreak back to back, commercial free, all night long.
It doesn’t take but four blocks and ten minutes worth of red lights later for the damn song Barb always used to ask me to play to come on. And there she is, real but not real in the passenger seat next to me in my beat up pickup cruising through downtown Nashville during the midnight hours. I can smell her perfume and feel her heat and it is a ghost riding shotgun on the road tonight.
“It's a dark victory. You won and you are so lost. Told us you were satisfied, but it never came across.”
It is in my head but it is real, the conversation I have with her ghost. A tearful confession of anger and blame. Who was right and who was wrong and the fact that it doesn’t even matter anymore. I pulled into the hotel parking lot and put the truck in park. Maybe it was my head, maybe it was just the liquor but it started to resonate within me that this is how it had been for her. I was always coming and going like I had the potential to be right there for her but I was always so far away. My heart was caring but cold and I knew it.
I stumbled through the hotel lobby and to the elevator before walking through the seemingly endless hallway only to unlock my door and collapse on the bed like a dead man. And that’s one euphemism that is never lost on me.
“One more time down south, sell the family headstones, drag a bag of dry bones, make good on my back loans”
Five nights and four show later and I was on out of Tennessee and making progress on the interstate running through Georgia. The old south does funny things to me. When I was a boy I would spend my summers here with my great aunts in Atlanta, one of whom was widowed and the other unwed. Both were women of great grace and grandeur who expected to be treated as nothing less than the southern belles they were and had always been growing up on my great-great grandfather’s estate, which had once been part of the western border of the city. The estate has long since been bulldozed and built over and the aunts are both long since buried in an old family plot somewhere out by the county line, but this is still where my ideas about the behavior and traditions of the south and the women who live in it come from.
I drive slower in Georgia than I do any place else in the United States. I pay attention to more things, take time to take in all the scenery, to tell it stories and let it tell some back. To think about what other people would think about it. Barb would have loved it. I had taken her through the Carolinas a few years ago and her favorite part was the coastline. I always thought maybe I’d eventually take her along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. I never made time for it.
Jon arrived at the airport in Atlanta exactly on schedule and joked with me while waiting for his baggage that I really ought to consider that method of transportation. I smiled and answered that he knew better than to think that anything other than the highway was good for me. He laughed and said he figured I’d say that. That’s Jon, always knowing my next move before I do.
“She stood on the shore and she waved to me: "Come back home" Many a-night I would think of her, all alone”
“The Golden Roses”
I spent a few nights showing Atlanta to Jon before it was official; I finally had the writer next to me on what I already knew was going to be the grandest tour I had ever taken anyone on. I made a straight line out of Atlanta for the coast of the Gulf and there was no turning back. I was out on the road again and I was free and there was no one left at home to call me back.
“And it’s goodbye”
“The Golden Roses”
Î Î Î Î Î ÎÎ Î Î Î Î ÎÎ Î Î Î Î ÎÎ Î Î Î Î ÎÎ Î Î Î Î ÎÎ Î Î Î Î Î
Highway Companion is the first solo work recorded by Tom Petty in twelve years and marks his triumphant return as rock and roll’s unlikely savior. Tom Petty doesn’t offer any surprises; he doesn’t give you anything different than he’s ever gave. But as always, he’s consistently amazing. Petty’s third solo album brings back the stripped studio sound that he spent 1989’s “Full Moon Fever” lusting after.
Petty’s classic style of rock and roll surfaces immediately with driving guitars with just the right amount of distortion and slap echo. A sort of California twang in the distortion petal; a sort of nervous fingers on the fret board; a sort of tangled brain and tired body taking on the microphone for the first time in years. Make no mistake still, it’s the recent Heartbreakers sound you hear influencing “Down South,” and the Traveling Wilburys you feel creeping in on “Big Weekend.” He does the ballad thing just as well as always with “Square One” and a few others, but don’t expect to find the next “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” lurking a few tracks away.
Tom puts a theme to Highway Companion-- the road, and the man driving it. The ballads become thin and weary, as the road is known often to make of a man. The driving guitars become shrill and magnetic, as if pulling you right along with the white lines of the interstate. It’s a good album for a road trip. Imagine yourself in a classic Bel Air with the top down on a deserted highway heading nowhere, and you’ll be inclined to imagine this album as the soundtrack.
Overall it’s southern and bluesy and just what the highway doctor ordered.
Petty collaborated with producer Jeff Lynne, Petty’s band mate in the Traveling Wilburys, and guitarist Mike Campbell, a long time member of The Heartbreakers. Highway Companion was released on July 25, 2006 by American.
1. Saving Grace
2. Square One
3. Flirting With Time
4. Down South
6. Turn This Car Around
7. Big Weekend
8. Night Driver
9. Damaged By Love
10. This Old Town
11. Ankle Deep
12. The Golden Rose