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Mike Campbell is The Heartbreakers' guitarist. He told us how this came together:
"That song took on a few shapes. It was written in my garage. I didn't write it, but we were jamming in the garage and Tom was playing one of my guitars. It was called 'Indiana Girl,' the first chorus was 'Hey, Indiana Girl, go out and find the world.' We liked the song and Rick Rubin suggested we cut it. It had actually been around for a while, just the basic riff and that chorus. We cut the song and Tom was singing the chorus, and he decided he just couldn't get behind singing about 'Hey, Indiana Girl,' so we went back and about a week later he came in and said 'I've got a better idea,' so he changed the chorus to 'Last dance with Mary Jane.' In the verse there is still the thing about an Indiana girl on an Indiana night, just when it gets to the chorus he had the presence of mind to give it a deeper meaning."
Petty has not said what this is about, but there are two common interpretations. It could be about Petty's divorce from his wife Jane, which happened a year before this was recorded. Another possibility is that it is about marijuana, as "Mary Jane" is slang for pot and the lyrics refer to killing the pain, which the drug is known for. Campbell offered this explanation: "My take on it is it can be whatever you want it to be. A lot of people think it's a drug reference, and if that's what you want to think, it very well could be, but it could also just be a goodbye love song."
Petty made some strange videos, and this was no exception. Tom played a mortician who takes home a corpse played by Kim Basinger. When he gets her home, he puts her in a wedding dress and dances with her. Then he puts her in a pickup truck and throws her into the ocean, and she opens her eyes as she sinks. It won Best Male Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Basinger was not the first choice for the video. Petty wanted Sharon Stone, but she didn't answer his request.
Petty played the guitar solo at the end after Campbell persuaded him to do it. Mike is known as an outstanding guitarist, but he thought Tom had a good sound going, so he told him to play a fuzzy sort of guitar solo. Says Mike, "He actually played a nice little bit at the end of that."
Campbell: "An interesting thing about that record, the same day we did the last overdubs, that guitar and a few little bits, we did a rough mix here at my house, just did it by hand. Then we went to 3 or 4 different studios over the next couple of weeks and tried to do a proper mix, and we could never beat that rough mix, so that was the mix we put out. It's an interesting track, it's very inaccurate, it's kind of greasy and loose. That day we just gelled and every time we mixed it we could clean up the sound and make it more posh, but it just didn't have the juice that one mix had." (Read more in our interview with Mike Campbell
In 2006, The Red Hot Chili Peppers released "Dani California
," which sounded very similar to this and was also produced by Rick Rubin. Petty showed no interest in suing the band, as they felt it was not malicious. The first 8 bars of both songs sound similar, but the chords are different. In this song, the chords are "Am, G, D, Am" and in "Dani California," the chords are "Am, G, Dm, Am." Both of these chord progressions are very common in Rock music. (thanks, Bert - Pueblo, NM)
Petty told Mojo
magazine January 2010 that Mary Jane is the same character as the female in "American Girl
," "with a few hard knocks."
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