I heard part of a town hall interview with Tom Petty on SiriusXM this week while driving to business meetings in Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition to some great stories about his career and art, he made a few surprising revelations.
When asked about his pre-concert rituals, Tom admitted that after more than 40 years of performing, he still gets nervous before going on stage. To combat his nerves, he said he likes to spend an hour before each show alone in a quiet place. He reviews the set list in his mind and “plays” the concert mentally before he ever goes on stage. It’s a technique he learned after meeting Emerson Fittipaldi once and asking him if he got nervous driving 200+ miles per hour. The Formula One champion said he wasn’t, because he’d already run the race before in his mind.
Later in the interview, he said that it’s still hard to go into the studio and make an album. It’s intimidating to him, even after more than 20 albums, a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What can we learn from these personal observations?
1 – He Cares About His Art
He isn’t just phoning it in. He could sell a lot of concert tickets and CDs by just showing up. But that wouldn’t be authentic and would disrespect all he did to create what he’s created. We need to bring that level of professionalism to our own work and never engage the autopilot (unless you’re an actual pilot and it’s part of the standard operating procedure).
2 – He’s a Real Person
There’s no sense that he’s a prima donna. He’d probably be a great person to just hang out with and talk or jam (too bad I have no musical ability). We need to be real, too. That’s easier when you’re not famous, but we should practice being real just in case we make it big one day.
3 – Vulnerability is Attractive
He shared something deep from his heart, and something so many try to hide. We always put forward the appearance that everything is fine or we have no problems. Yet the most interesting people are flawed and we can relate to them because we are too. My friend Sutton Parks wrote a raw and real account of his battle with depression, foreclosure, addiction, and homelessness in You Can Sleep in Your Car, But You Can’t Drive Your House to Work. It inspires me to share more and I highly recommend it.
4 – Make Stuff Anyway
We have to fight through the urge to quit or give up. We have to fight through the nerves that appear even when we’ve been on stage a million times. Face the fear and do it anyway. The Resistance, as described by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, will always be there. Declare war on it and fight it every single day.
I don’t know Tom Petty and while I’m a fan, I’m nowhere near his biggest fan. But after this interview, I do have a lot more respect for him.
Check out the new album from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye. It’s pretty good for an old stoner. :)
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