All the vampires
Walkin' through the valley
Move west down
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Pawn Shop at Sherman Way & Reseda Boulevard, California
Some say Hollywood is glamorous, and some say it is beautiful. Some say it is magical, and some call it mythical. But today, let us dwell upon the fact that Hollywood is haunted.
Hollywood is haunted by the ghosts of a million celebrities, stars who burned too bright and faded too soon. Hollywood is haunted by the specter of a million broken dreams and shattered hearts. The wind rustles the palm trees at night, but it might just as well be the mournful wailing of ghosts; ghosts who watched in horror as the reflection in the mirror went from ethereal, youthful starlet to shriveled, aged hag, while they were powerless to save themselves even with all the plastic surgeons in the world. For every star on the walk of fame, there are five regrets. For every name in lights, there's a bloodstain on the carpet in an abandoned apartment where another name that didn't make it ended itself.
And yet, the tragedies add to the romance, giving it a bitter edge to temper the sweetness. Tom Petty understands this. The mourning of loves and lives past is a recurring theme in his work - witness "Mary Jane's Last Dance" for a prime example.
So we come to consider "Free Fallin'," and its dark imagery makes a kind of poetic sense. Those are, after all, vampires walking through the valley. Bad boys stand "in the shadows" with whatever dark secret compels them to be there. There's a heavy moral weight to the lyrics; girls seem to be good and boys seem to be bad. Girls love Jesus and America. The "bad boys," then, are set apart by the contrast, and thus evil is invoked. Finally, "free falling" is something you do when you leap off a building to commit suicide. And this is reinforced by the references to "glide down over Mulholland" and "free fall out into nothing."
Reseda Theatre in Los Angeles, California
The pinpoint center of this song seems to be Reseda, a neighborhood in LA within the San Fernando Valley. Ventura Boulevard and Mulholland Drive (David Lynch scare-chord goes here) are two streets running through this area. Reseda is an area that originally started out as a suburb; one of the legendary housing developments that replaced the orange groves and farms with endless cul-de-sacs and identical, overpriced houses.
Indeed, there does seem to be a connection in the lyrics with the dying-off of farmland in California. The line speaking of "a freeway running through the yard" could be the Ventura Freeway which runs through the valley. The construction of the Ventura Freeway in the 1960s is credited with hastening Reseda's transition from a pastoral farm community to yet another smoggy concrete jungle surrounding Los Angeles. Perhaps, then, the "bad boys" are the greedy land barons who made this happen, and the "good girl" is Mother Earth herself?
But that's too tenuous a thread to pursue deeper. In fact, the two possible meanings of the song blend well, as do the many other possible interpretations. And Reseda being an area with so many stories to tell, it is perhaps fitting that you could pick any one of them and be just as correct.
Free Fallin' Songfacts
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