Was Tom Petty promoting cannibalism?

It’s five years since the great Tom Petty died from “mixed drug toxicity” in his California home on October 2, 2017. But many years before that (1985), he had a big hit with the song “Don’t come around here no more” (the clip is above), which caused some major controversy, as it prompted accusations that it was promoting cannibalism.

The backstory is that Stevie Nicks was initially going to record this. After spending the night with Eurythmics Dave Stewart, she woke up in a panic, realising that she still loved Joe Walsh from The Eagles, so she kicked Stewart out and told him, “Don’t come around here no more.”

Dave Stewart was no doubt heartbroken, or amused, but being a poet, he wrote a song based on her words. He asked her to record it, but she missed the recording session so he and Tom Petty did it instead.

The song’s video was a psychedelic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-inspired trip in which Petty plays the ‘Mad’ Hatter. Video director Jeff Stein was worried that Petty wouldn’t like the concept.

“I was little leery of pitching it to Tom, because at the time, in my mind, he was this straight-ahead rocker and maybe wouldn’t be that adventurous. For him to be in basically a costume melodrama, after whatever his image was before, was very daring, I thought. And he got totally into it.”

Many of the images from the book are shoehorned into the quite brilliant clip. There’s Alice drowning (although in tea rather than her own tears), the caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah, the Duchess’s baby who turns into a piglet, the flamingo croquet mallet, and of course the tea party.

The video caused instant controversy because, toward the end of the clip (which is at the top of this page), guests at the Hatter’s tea party slice up Alice and eat her as cake.

It was, reportedly, the motivation for Tipper Gore to launch the “Parents Music Resource Center” to establish a rating system for music. Stein said:

“Apparently, Tipper’s daughter saw that scene and freaked out — and then Mom started taking notice of what was going on, on MTV. And I’m not kidding: I was cited for promoting cannibalism by a parents/teachers group. I thought, ‘Well, this has to be a career high, if you can bring back cannibalism as a fad!’”

According to Stein, the final cut was not as graphic as they had planned.

“We had put strawberry jam as a filling, so when Tom was chopping it up, that kind of red strawberry sauce was going all over the place. It looked more like a slasher thing. But we weren’t going to include that in the final piece.”

MTV agreed to play the video, but they asked to remove a shot of Petty’s face.

They said it was just “too lascivious,” Petty explained. “It was just a shot of me grinning, and they were like, ‘Well, you can do it, but you can’t enjoy it that much.’”

The MTV Music Video Awards nominated the video for Video of the Year, Viewer’s Choice, and Best Direction. It ultimately won for Best Special Effects.

And of course, what would the music industry be without cannibalism?

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