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Last dance with Mary Jane (1993) - Tom Petty - All about the song ...

About the writing of the hit...

Song history: "Last dance with Mary Jane" (1993) - Tom Petty

Many people are still wondering what or who Tom Petty had in mind when composing this amazing piece. It is quite possible that the singer dedicated the romantic composition to his former wife Jane, with whom they separated a year before the "birth" of the hit. However, no one excludes the possibility that under the tender name of "Mary Jane" may hide and marijuana....

Let's delve into the backstory

The single was first released in 1993, together with the album "Greatest Hits". Very soon the work topped the Billboard Rock Tracks chart, and the single itself became No 1 on the Billboard Top 20.

Cover of "The Live Anthology"
Cover of "The Live Anthology"

Interestingly, the song was originally called "Indiana Girl" - in honour of one of Mike Campbell's guitars, the guitarist of the Heartbreakers. It was the instrument with this female name that gave the single the first chords of the chorus. Petty later decided that "She grew up in an Indiana town..." was more suitable for the basis of the lyrics, and the chorus became a verse beginning with "Last dance with Mary Jane".

Video clip

Later, a funny video with Tom Petty in the lead role was shot for the song. In it, the singer plays the role of a morgue attendant who took home a pretty but, alas, dead lady, played by Kim Basinger. Bewitched by her charm, Petty tries his best to awaken his beloved to life: he puts her in a luxurious wedding dress a la the 18th century, arranges a romantic candlelit dinner and even "invites" the so-called Mary Jane to dance... But all in vain. In general, the beau decides to let the breathless beloved go free swimming in the literal sense of the word. In the end of the clip he brings the woman on his pick-up truck to the sea, where he surrenders her body to the dark sea abyss. But the main drama unfolds after Petty leaves: Basinger opens her eyes, completely submerged under the dark waters.

It's worth noting that in 1994, the video for "Last Dance with Mary Jane" won an MTV Video Music Award in the Best Actor category.

The plot of the song

Tom Petty in 1976. Photo: Richard E. Aaron/ Redferns/ Getty Images
Tom Petty in 1976. Photo: Richard E. Aaron/ Redferns/ Getty Images

Well, now let's get to the most interesting part - the plot of the song, in which Petty skilfully concealed the true message. Basically, in "Last dance with Mary Jane" the first-person narrator is a girl who grew up in Indiana.
Verbatim:

"...She grew tall, and she grew straight, with Indiana boys Indian nights", "The boys got more high off her than any other high.".

Producer Rick Rubin recalls Tom Petty's "breathtaking" poetry when reflecting on their work together in the nineties. Here they are with Johnny Cash
Producer Rick Rubin recalls Tom Petty's "breathtaking" poetry when reflecting on their work together in the nineties. Here they are with Johnny Cash

Probably every other listener will find these lines suggestive of cannabis, which is not surprising. Especially the chorus, which starts like this: "One last dance with Mary Jane, to kill this pain in myself once again..." fuels this speculation. Hardly a dance with a regular girl helps dull the inner pain, hmmm? But, on the other hand, the third verse, where Petty sings about standing on a hotel balcony in her underwear and looking down, is really confusing. It's a real head-scratcher here! But one thing is clear: a joint can hardly stand on a balcony, and in her underwear! At the very least, it stinks of utter nonsense. In general, Petty gave everyone a mystery, which even after his death nobody can solve... But we should pay tribute to it - the song really turned out to be mysterious and melodic, and if a hit is catchy, it's much more important than knowing its real meaning!

Interesting facts...

Officially released on the Greatest Hits compilation (1993), "Last dance with Mary Jane" was the last song recorded with Stan Lynch, the Heartbreakers' drummer. Lynch left the band a year later.

Greatest Hits vinyl album cover artwork
Greatest Hits vinyl album cover artwork

In 2006, a very interesting situation occurred: one of the popular North American radio stations for a long time urged Tom Petty to sue the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The reason was that the latter allegedly borrowed the theme song from "Last dance with Mary Jane", included in their hit "Dani California". However, the singer refused to sue, explaining that the listener may have a sense of similarity between the two songs, and that's fine. It turns out that both hits were produced by Rick Rubin, who has been collaborating with both bands for a long time.

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