Tom Petty Said It Would Be ‘Bulls***’ to Edit His Biography, Even if It Made Him Uncomfortable

In 2015, writer and musician Warren Zanes published a biography of Tom Petty. While the celebrated musician sat through interviews and helped Zanes coordinate conversations with those close to him, he didn’t want any kind of say over the book’s contents. Zanes later explained why Petty thought it would be “bulls***” to try to control the contents of his biography.

Tom Petty wears a green shirt and scarf and holds a guitar. Tom Petty's biography details his rise to fame.
Tom Petty | Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Tom Petty met the eventual author of his biography years before the book came out

Petty met his future biographer, Zanes, in 1986. Petty joined the band on harmony for their album Stand Up and had the group open for The Heartbreakers on tour in 1987.

“We got to know him better on the tour,” Zanes told Best Classic Bands.

After the Del Fuegos broke up, Zanes got two Masters degrees, a Ph.D., and became a vice president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When Petty read Zanes’ book Dusty in Memphis about Dusty Springfield, he reached out and asked if he could pen his biography. Zanes, who was a longtime Petty fan, was quick to agree.

“Petty knew damn well that I wanted to write his biography,” Zanes wrote for Rolling Stone. “This was just his dignified way of taking a conversation that had started with his management and making it a conversation between us.”

Tom Petty did not want an authorized biography

Zanes explained that Petty would provide him with as many interviews as necessary. Still, he did not want the biography to be an authorized one. This typically refers to a biography written with the help or input of the subject. While Petty helped with the project, he thought of it as Zanes’ book, not his own.

“It was based on his own reaction to authorized books,” Zanes explained. “He said he feels like when he sees that on the front top of the book, he knows it’s going to be bulls***: an inside, white-washed account and he said, ‘I want this to be your book. Not ghost-written, not co-written, not authorized.’ The only thing he asked was the opportunity to read it before publication and respond to anything he felt the need to respond to.”

The result was an intimate look into Petty’s life, providing previously unknown details about the musician’s upbringing, marriages, and heroin use. Zanes explained that some of this made Petty uncomfortable.

“The second half of the book, involving divorce and heroin use and the blending of families, got some divided responses among Petty’s family members, some contention, some trouble,” he explained. “I think Petty found himself at the center of it, and in a way that proved uncomfortable. But my job, from the beginning, had been to tell the man’s story based on interviews, primarily those with him. And that’s what I’d done.”

The Heartbreakers frontman eventually asked to take out one detail

Zanes said that Petty primarily kept his word about not asking him to take anything out of the book. He only wanted to change one detail.

“There was a comment about Bob Dylan, nothing alarming by any stretch, not even negative in tone,” he explained. “It was taken from an interview done in the Eighties. Petty asked if I could please remove that, out of respect for Bob. When I explained that it didn’t come from our interviews, that it was already in print and would be cited as such, Petty said, ‘Well, I got away with it once.’ I took it out.”

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