In Memoriam

Tom Petty stood up for authentic rock music – and he never backed down

He was a true heart breaker.

The most watched video on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s YouTube Channel – at over 46m views – is a cover version of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The performance features an all-star cast and a famous guitar solo by Prince.

Channelling George Harrison’s voice and lyrics, the glue holding the whole thing together is Tom Petty – simultaneously and effortlessly occupying the roles of front man, “sideman” and tribute act in the ultimate pub band. But championing a moment of rock industry celebration without collapsing into parody or contradiction is a tightrope act which – as with much of what Petty achieved – is harder than it looks.

Petty, who has died at the age of 66, was the scrawny, kid next door (even as an adult) with an unadorned style and lack of movie-star looks. But he was also an archetype of staunchly and self-consciously “authentic” rock. For Petty – a romantic rather than an experimenter – live performance, a core rock sound and tradition were what counted the most.

Into the Great Wide Open

An early encounter with Elvis in 1961, when Petty was ten (his uncle was working on the set of Presley’s film Follow That Dream, appropriately enough) set him on his path. But his childhood in Florida was beset by an abusive alcoholic father and quarrels about his preference for music over schoolwork.


He wryly recalled a teacher trying to steer him away from his rock ambitions, arguing:

Look at Elvis Presely – if [he] hadn’t the talent and a good manager, he wouldn’t have had a job to fall back on.

Petty said later: “I always thought Elvis was kind of a poor example to prove her point.”

Petty’s subsequent career was a textbook example of the rock and roll narrative. He went straight from school to playing in bands, earning money by mowing lawns and digging graves, before moving to Los Angeles.

Breaking through in the 1970s, he was in the second wave of the classic rock era, following on from the stars of the previous decade. But that doesn’t mean his work wasn’t original or distinctive. With his band the Heartbreakers he managed to distil a particular strand of rock writing and performance. He brought cinematic lyrics and a “rough around the edges” image of free falling and the great wide open.

His was a clear yet mythical America that connected the Elvis of the 1950s to the chiming counter-culture of the Byrds in the 1960s. It mixed a Californian coastal languidness with a harder edged sense of deep south tradition – all rooted in rock and roll. So it was entirely fitting that he performed with his heroes of the previous generation – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan – in the supergroup Travelling Wilburys.

The drama of his songs’ protagonists wasn’t absent from his own occasionally hard-bitten career either, which included periods of addiction and business disputes. Despite his aura as an underdog, he was steadfast in his dealings with the music industry, filing for bankruptcy in 1979 rather than concede in a dispute when his record label changed ownership. He later refused to let his fourth album, Hard Promises, serve as an industry trial for a $1 price increase in CDs.

Staunchly protective of his creative capital, he once sued a tyre company for its use of material resembling his own in an advert. In 2000, he issued George W Bush with a cease and desist letter for using I Won’t Back Down as a campaign song – Bush did back down – before pushing the point home by playing a private concert for Democratic opponent Al Gore.

We got lucky

More outspoken politically as he got older, Petty expressed regret at his use of a Confederate flag as a stage decoration for concerts promoting his album Southern Accents. “It was a downright stupid thing to do,” he commented. “It’s like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn’t be on flagpoles.”

His final tour also saw him feature images of transgender actor Alexis Arquette in stage projections of his major hit American Girl – immediately in the wake of Donald Trump’s proposed transgender military ban.

Petty’s idea of what being “American” means ultimately leaned more towards the emotional rather than the social or geographical. It was about resilience, sturdiness and determination.

Rock mythology rests on an interesting paradox. It demands accessibility and being “one of the people” at the same as having special star qualities.

Petty carried this off by drawing a line from his predecessors to those continuing the same path (like Dave Grohl) through melodic flair, simplicity and an appeal to the straightforward. Coasting the upper echelons of a glamorous trade, even as a journeyman, Petty was neither the first nor the last of his kind. But he typified it, at the absolute centre of modern rock music, running down his own dream.

Adam Behr, Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music, Newcastle University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.