When the late rocker Tom Petty hit the road to promote his album, “Southern Accents,” in 1985, he brought a Confederate flag with him—and soon came to regret the decision.
“It began as a concept record about the South, but the concept part slipped away probably 70 percent or so into the album,” Petty, who died earlier this week after a cardiac arrest, told Rolling Stone in a 2015 interview. “I just let it go, but the Confederate flag became part of the marketing for the tour. I wish I had given it more thought. It was a downright stupid thing to do.”
Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, the flag was “the wallpaper of the South,” the rock legend recalled, and he didn’t intend to convey racist sentiment when he included it in his show. “I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant.”
The song, “Rebel,” on his “Southern Accent” album told the story of a troubled southerner wrestling with his heritage—and an apparent drinking problem.
I was born a rebel, down in Dixie
On a Sunday morning
Yeah, with one foot in the grave
And one food on the pedal
I was born a rebel
“He still blames the North for the discomfort of his life, so my thought was the best way to illustrate this character was to use the Confederate flag,” Petty explained to Rolling Stone. “I used it onstage during that song, and I regretted it pretty quickly.”
“When we toured two years later, I noticed people in the audience wearing Confederate flag bandanas and things like that,” Petty went on. “One night, someone threw one onstage. I stopped everything and gave a speech about it. I said, ‘Look, this was to illustrate a character. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn’t who we are.’”
Petty’s impromptu speech drew a “mixed reaction,” he said, getting boos and cheers alike, but “I never saw one again after that speech in that one town.”
When the state of South Carolina decided to lower the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in 2015, Petty applauded the decision.
“That flag shouldn’t have any part in our government,” he said. “It shouldn’t represent us in any way. The war is over. You know, it’s a bit ironic: It’s the only time that I know of where we defeated a country in a war and then flew their flag.”
His views about the flag aside, Petty’s affection for the South that raised him never waned.
“There’s some wonderful people down there,” he told Rolling Stone. “There are people still affected by what their relatives taught them. It isn’t necessarily racism. They just don’t like Yankees. They don’t like the North. But when they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person … It’s how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn’t be on flagpoles.”
Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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