Tom Petty’s first solo album, “Full Moon Fever”, always reminds me of Florida. More aptly, of leaving Florida. It came out in the spring of 1989, during the waning days of my time in high school. It was the soundtrack to my last summer in the Sunshine State – spent restless, irritable and discontent, waiting for the next thing. The next thing, in my case, was a spot at a private Christian college in upstate South Carolina. In hindsight, it doesn’t sound like a step up but at the time it represented my liberation from the sandy redneck town in which I’d spent the last decade. I was 17 years old and I was running down a dream.
It was also the last summer of my relative innocence. I was not comfortable enough in my own body to ever be successful with the opposite sex and despite being smack dab in the middle of one of the major cocaine trafficking routes in the southeastern United States, had yet to dabble in much beyond Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers and Benson & Hedges menthol 100s.
In the summer of 1989, a good time for A Free Teen was hurtling along the hot, flat asphalt of the north Florida pine hammocks in my Mazda 323 with a couple of guys as passengers. Listening to “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own” and singing along in the glaring Florida sunshine:
Well I been to Brooker and I been to Micanopy
I been to St. Louis too, I been all around the world
I’ve been over to your house
And you’ve been over sometimes to my house
I’ve slept in your tree house
My middle name is Earl…
That all changed the following autumn. Not for the better, not for the worse – just a requisite turn on the road to A Free Man today. Within a couple of months of my matriculation at that private Christian college in the Palmetto State, a lot of things changed. “Full Moon Fever” became, like my virginity and relative sobriety, the detritus of childhood. A few years later, “Full Moon Fever” got literally left behind – sold or lost sometime in the mid 90’s. And I was OK with that.
A great album is one that you can keep coming back to, for years and years. A great album is one that features prominently at different points in your life, one that carries you through tough times and pops up as an accompaniment to joyful times. I have never really thought of “Full Moon Fever” as a ‘great album’. It is a solid rock album, but is overproduced and comes of sounding artificial and insincere. It does have some great rock tracks – “Free Fallin'” never fails to get me singing – but I found it fairly easy to live without it for 10 or 15 years.
I picked it up again a couple of years ago on a trip back to the Midwest from Oxford. I was going to be doing a lot of driving through the Missouri countryside. I wanted to pick up one of those classic American driving albums to blow the speakers of my rental car. When I saw ‘Full Moon Fever’ in the discount bin at Slackers, I knew I had found my soundtrack for the fortnight.
After serving its purpose for that time in Missouri, “Full Moon Fever” has remained relatively unmolested on the CD shelf.
But it popped up again last night, randomly on my iPod as I was getting Boy Z ready for bed. And that was fine, wouldn’t have been my choice, but that’s OK. I hummed along to the more upbeat tracks while changing nappies and pulling on pajamas.As the lights went out, ‘Alright For Now’ came on. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this song in the last twenty years – hundreds probably – but I never heard it like I did last night. In fact, I may have never really heard it at all. I always thought of it as a throwaway track – a snoozer wedged between the more rocking “Apartment Song” and “A Mind With a Heart of its Own”. It’s a short, simple little diddy:
Goodnight baby, sleep tight my love
May God watch over you from above
Tomorrow I’m workin’ what would I do
I’d be lost & lonely if not for you
So close your eyes
We’re alright for now
I’ve spent my life travelin’
I’ve spent my life free
I could not repay all you’ve done for me
So sleep tight baby
Unfurrow your brow
And know I love you
We’re alright for now
We’re alright for now
And with that, as I watched Boy Z slip gently into sleep, “Full Moon Fever” joins the pantheon of great albums for A Free Man.
From the Great Minds Thinking Alike Department, see Reinventing Dad’s post on the Summer of 1989. And Tom Petty.