The first time I heard his music, I was with my best friend’s family at the river. Her older sister was with us and had a boombox (remember those?) that ran on batteries. She popped in the Wildflowers album and I fell in love! Tom Petty’s voice crooned out into our campground. His voice was so unusual and his lyrics were poignant. I could have listened to the album over and over that afternoon, soaking up the sunshine. His song lyrics made me smile and they have continued to over the years.
I almost met him one fateful night in Hollywood. Fast forward to several years later. I was in Hollywood with that same best friend and our other best friend for her bachelorette party. She wanted to have a proper girls night out – dancing, drinking and having fun. We planned to go to the Roxy that night. Dressed in our best outfits, with our hair and makeup done up for a night out, we drove down to the city that never sleeps.
It took us a minute to spot the club – remember this is pre-cell phone era, no Siri, no GPS, no voice message stating “you have arrived at your destination”. We finally found it and we were filled with anticipation for an exciting night. We pulled into the lot in front of the club and although it was a little early in the evening – around 9:30pm – we were surprised the lot was empty. We got out, straightened out our clothing and hair from our hour-long car ride and walked over to the club. The big Roxy sign on top was not lit up and the entire place was dark inside. No lines, no people anywhere. After a few moments, a man wearing a janitorial uniform exited the building and began locking the doors. We asked him when the club opened for the night and he explained that the club had closed down two weeks prior to our arrival. It was the end of an era – the Roxy was closed forever.
The man seemed genuinely bummed for us to have missed out on our big night at the Roxy, so he recommended a different club down the street and around the corner. We drove over to the other club. It was one of those secret style clubs where there is just a plain door with a bouncer standing outside and a number over the doorway. No neon lights, no line waiting to get in. We changed our attitudes and thought “cool, maybe we’ll just have a chill evening having some drinks and laughing”.
We marched over to the door, IDs ready. The man at the door was a large, black man who was wider than the door and almost as tall. We had watched two guys go in just before us. He checked their IDs and without getting out of his chair, opened the door and they waltzed right in. We all smiled at the huge man as we walked up. He quickly stood up out of his chair as if to halt our proceeding any further. He looked us up and down – stalling before he spoke. His deep voice asked “Can I help you ladies?” (Think Chef’s voice from South Park.) We answered with a cheery “We’re just out to have a drink.” The man looked down at our feet and then back up at our faces and had the strangest response… “You can’t come inside with open toed shoes.” Several of us were wearing heals with open toes. We looked at each other confused, shrugged our shoulders and told him not to worry, we all had our tennis shoes in the car and we could quickly change into those. We began to assemble and walk back to the car when he stopped us and said that it wouldn’t be necessary. Confused again, we just looked at him this time hoping for an explanation.
He seemed to be at a loss for words as a couple of guys walked over from across the street, walked straight through our group and up to the man at the door. They showed IDs and went right in. As the door opened, we saw that just inside there was a black curtain – a second doorway. The two guys pushed the curtain to the side and for a very brief moment, we caught a glimpse of the reason the man was trying to dissuade us from entering the club. On the left hand side of the room, there was a long bar that ran down into the club. On the right was a man shackled and chained to the wall with another man standing near him with a paddle of some sort. The lightbulb went off over our heads collectively… it was a gay fetish bar! That creep at the Roxy had sent us there as a cruel joke. We couldn’t believe that he would be so rude to a group of strangers looking to have a fun night out in Hollywood.
Our faces turned red in embarrassment. The man looked at us with apologetic eyes. We could tell he was trying not to be rude but knew that the bar was not our scene. We turned away almost in unison and walked back to the car. We laughed and talked about it for a few moments once inside the car and then as we opened our eyes and looked around, we saw several male couples – some holding hands – walking towards the club. We joked about what that man at the door must have thought when he saw us walking up! ha!
We drove around for a bit, trying to decide where to go next. There was an Irish pub that I liked the looks of but it wouldn’t have dancing and the ladies really wanted to go dancing. Finally, we ended up at the Palace. The Palace was a fun club with different themes of music each night, a cool atmosphere, and typically lots of dancing opportunities.
We paid our entrance fee and walked inside. Boy, had we wished that the woman at the door would have mentioned two important things – well maybe three important things. The first being that the air conditioning was out inside the club and the entire place smelled of hot, sweaty bodies melting inside of a room with zero ventilation. It was cooler outside and it was a warm summer night in Southern California. We quickly tried to make the best of the situation – we ordered ice cold beers on tap for everyone in our group. The beers arrived and the waitress apologized… the refrigeration system on the beer tap was out. Seriously?! If I hadn’t been so young, I certainly would have requested that she take it back and exchange the drink for something cold with ice. Sadly, our young-not-brave-enough-selves drank our hot beers inside the hot, sweaty club. Not refreshing. The third thing was sort of our own fault. We definitely should have asked what type of music was playing that night. It was the late 90s and the age of Ska music – not the sort of ska that you can still hear today and reminisce over, more like that ska that was born in the backyard of some Hollywood teenager who’s friends thought they were so cool because they added a brass horn to the mix but at the same time couldn’t read a sheet of music or write a chorus to save their lives. As the music squawked and screeched in the background, we gulped our hot beers and looked on at the people dancing to the horrendous sounds the band was playing. We had settled into the fact that our night was essentially doomed. Nothing was working out and we had each spent $20 on entrance and a beer to a place that was making us incredibly unhappy. We probably would have had more fun at the diner on Sunset, having burgers and shakes and talking about life.
When the last gal finished her beer, we all gave each other a look that meant “let’s get out of here”. We walked out sadly, having missed out on the night we had hoped for. Outside the club, we stood around talking for a few minutes about what to do next. The bride to be was ready to call it a night and drive home but I was determined to save the night somehow and give these gals some fun. As we stood there, a man approached us and asked if we wanted to go to a party. I immediately smiled and exuberantly said yes! The other girls were not as excited. They shyly looked at each other and made excuses as to why we shouldn’t go – we didn’t know this guy… what kind of “party” would it be? I completely understood their shyness, I would have been right there with them had I not been traveling to Hollywood to hang out at the clubs and had been to many parties where I had been invited by strangers that turned out absolutely fabulous. Also, if a party wasn’t my scene, I just went home. Typically the parties were so big that no one even noticed if you just walked right back out the door after stepping inside and realizing it wasn’t your scene.
The girls hemmed and hawed over the situation for a few minutes and the stranger got impatient. He told us how to get to the party if we wanted to go and then said he hoped he would see us up there. The instructions were simple – head up the stairs over on the left side of the club to the upper portion of the building. There was a doorway sort of hiding there with no markings, painted blue like the remainder of the top of the building. It was right there. We didn’t have to travel or find it or ride with anyone we didn’t know to get there. All we had to do was march up those steps and see what was inside. I was going – even if I had to take a cab for the long, hour-drive home. I finally talked the girls into just seeing what was up there and if they didn’t like it, promised we would leave. Three of the girls stayed on the sidewalk while two of us went up the stairs to check things out. I opened a door into a typical Hollywood party. People mingling all over the open space filled with couches, ottomans, end tables, bar top tables with tall bar stools, and a bar way at the other end of the space. There were windows looking out over the Hollywood skyline – filled with all of the twinkly and colored lights of the night. Music played in the background. Loud enough to feel like a party but not so loud you couldn’t talk over it. My eyes scanned the room for a comfortable place for the girls to sit and have a drink and relax after our awful night out.
And there HE was. The man whose voice I had been in love with for years. The man who wrote songs that spoke to my soul. The man who’s crooked smile and blonde locks could be recognized anywhere. TOM PETTY. My eyes locked on him. He was sitting facing out the windows of the room, so that I could only see his profile at first. The group around him was talking and laughing. There was a small mirror-topped coffee table in the center of the grouping of white, shaggy, faux-fur arm chairs. As I watched the group longer, I noticed that there were lines of white powder on the table and a woman sniffing each line with a shake of her head between each pile. The friend that had ventured up the stairs with me had wide eyes as she spotted the drugs. A man noticed us standing at the door, not entering. He gestured to us to “come on in”, Tom Petty looked straight at us curious about these two strangers standing at the door. We looked at each other, I leaned my head towards the party as if saying “come on” and she shook her head telling me “no way” in no uncertain terms. In a split second, I had to decide whether I would stay and meet Tom Petty – a singer I admired and loved – or leave with the ladies that I was there with to celebrate our friend’s last days of single womanhood.
Damn being such a good friend! I left with the girls. I pleaded with them one last time to go back up there and see if we could have some fun. I told them TOM PETTY was in there! But all they heard was COCAINE come out of my friend’s mouth and we were headed back to the car. I’ve always wondered what would have happened that night if I had stayed. I know that I wouldn’t have succumbed to the drugs – processed drugs are not my thing, in fact, I’m highly phobic of medications and drugs altogether unless they are grown and available in nature. I likely would have had a few cocktails, tried my best to exchange words with one of my favorite singers of all time, and taken a very expensive cab ride home. But, ah… what I wouldn’t give to have heard those few words come out of his mouth, directed at me…
You think you think you're gonna take her away with your money and your cocaine...