Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Burn/Fire-Have Love Will Travel

We'd like to welcome a new writer--Gregory W. Smith--to our ranks.  Here's his first post!!

For the theme of Fire/Burn, I’m choosing Tom Petty’s The Last DJ generally, and “Have Love Will Travel” specifically. I know neither of these have flames or burning in the title, but bear with me.

Let me set the stage, the year is 2002 and music is not what it used to be.  Satellite paid radio is on the rise and am/fm radio is being replaced by AOR, instead of the latest and greatest from the artists we have all known and loved for years.  American Idol is just finding its sea legs, where judges tell you who is the latest and greatest, instead of homegrown or even nationally known DJ’s.  The music business is in shambles at worst, or a cheesy popularity contest at best.  Along comes Tom and the boys to release a scathing attack on the music industry in album form.  The same Tom Petty that went to war over album prices in the eighties and never, ever took a corporate sponsor to go on tour.  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the last great American rock band IMHO.

The album starts off with the title track, a love note to Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd.  I don’t know much about this guy, but Tom thought the world of him apparently.  “Money Becomes King” follows at  number two, with “Joe” coming in at track four.  These three tracks all take aim at the music industry, but in three different ways.  “Money” is a shot of that feeling we’ve all had, when our hometown music god or goddess hits the big time.  You can still see in your mind’s eye, the large constellation they were in your small universe.  “Joe” takes aim at those notorious producers that seduce and use all the dreamers with stars in their eyes, just trying to score a record deal.  Once again, not about fire, but I think the world of those tracks.

The track that I first thought of at the mention of Burn/Fire is “Have Love, Will Travel” (track 11 on the album.)  Let me preface, that since his passing, this is the song of his I have most turned to most. It speaks to me now in ways it never did before.  His lines stand out it this song and stirs up imagery of what I have always viewed music to be.  Two lines or stanzas stand out most to me.

How about a cheer for all those bad girls
And all those boys that play that rock n roll  
They love it like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls
That is the first one.  Music is by its nature spiritual.  It moves people to dance, to sing, to feel that you are no longer alone in the world, much like the Pentecostal denomination does for its parishioners.  A concert, whether it rock, rap, country, or polka dotted dinosaurs that play tambourines, is nothing but revival church writ large.  It stirs everyone deep down in their souls, at least it always has for my friends and I.

The next stanza is:

Maggie’s still trying to rope a tornado
Joe’s in the backyard trying to keep things simple
And the lonely dj’s digging a ditch,
Trying to keep the flames from the temple

And now you know why I chose this track.  The imagery in that one stanza gets me every single time.  I don’t what tornado Maggie’s chasing, but her hope is still there that she will rope it.  The simplicity of Joe, a man that appreciates the simple things in life, makes him loveable in his own. And then there’s that DJ.  He’s already tried creating a  line to keep the flames away and he’s down to his last line of defense, digging that forsaken ditch.  The flames are approaching, rising, burning the very air he breathes into his lungs, and still he won’t relent, won’t give up, won’t wave that white flag or won’t back down, if you will.  The temple is sacrosanct, the temple is all, the temple must survive at all costs.  And what is in the temple pray tell?  Why music of course.  The one thing that will never let us down.  The one thing that is there through the smiles and the tears.  The one fragile thing that protects our souls from the evil, vindictive, insane world.

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