On a recent night in San Diego, Tom Petty was doing what he's been doing for close to 40 years: leading his band The Heartbreakers on stage, playing the old hits and inaugurating new ones. He's just started touring behind Hypnotic Eye, the band's latest album in a prolific career — and if you ask Petty how it feels to still be kicking after all this time, you'll get an uncharacteristically bashful response. "It's actually kind of embarrassing now; it's such a love fest," the 63-year-old rocker says. "I don't think any of us pictured doing it at this level, at this age. "How could you?" Musically, Hypnotic Eye is a throwback to early Heartbreakers albums; it's driving rock with a bluesy vibe. But lyrically, Petty says, it's very much about what's going on in America today. Petty recently spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about his long friendship with a late Beatle and why it pays to hear one's own music on a bad car stereo. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read their conversation below.
Melissa Block: Tell me about writing the songs for Hypnotic Eye and thinking about what tied them together. What do you think that is? What makes this feel like a collection of songs to you? Tom Petty: It's observational. I think it has a lot to do with American culture, without getting too strict about it or trying to be preachy. I don't really take a side; I just invented characters that had their points of view. Let me ask about one of the characters that I think you might be talking about, the speaker in the song "Power Drunk." Who's this guy? Well, the guy singing that song is in some situation where he's feeling, maybe, a little frightened. The line, "Pin on a badge and a man begins to change," that's pretty self-explanatory, really. There's a lot of power-drunk people around these days.
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