Although the late Tom Petty was by no stretch of the imagination a Goth-rocker, he did possess a black sense of humor, and he embraced the darkness in his twisted videos for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” as well as in the Full Moon Fever track “Zombie Zoo,” an ode to a “little freak with the lunchpail purse.” So it’s likely that Petty would have appreciated a most unique tribute held on the eve of what would have been his 67th birthday, when more than 600 lunchpail-toting, Petty-loving freaks — some wearing “Don’t Come Around Here No More”-inspired Alice in Wonderland cosplay, and seemingly hundreds of them wearing top hats — convened on the San Fernando Valley’s Ventura Boulevard to reenact Full Moon Fever’s most famous track, “Free Fallin’.”
The idea came for the first annual Tom Petty Memorial Vampire Walk came from Mary Soracco, a 41-year-old Gothic jewelry designer who grew up in Northridge, just up the street from the suburb of Reseda immortalized in “Free Fallin’.” While she wasn’t always a massive Petty fan — “Normally I’m into stuff like the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joy Division,” she told Yahoo Entertainment this week — she “grew up with Tom Petty. We all did. It was something that we could sing along with. It was something my parents and I could agree on, if we were in the car together. And just the way that Tom loved Los Angeles, and he loved the Valley, between ‘Free Fallin’,’ and the whole of ‘Zombie Zoo,’ he had some love for us too — us vampire Goth people.”
Soracco “thought maybe 10 to 15 of my friends would show up” when she posted the crazy idea on the Facebook page for her costume jewelry line, the Contrary Dame, but once local media picked up the story, hundreds of fans RSVP’d. “It seems like this is something that L.A. needs right now, so I’m happy to provide it,” she explained. “I figure there’s no way I can live here and not do this, you know?”
So at 7 p.m. Thursday, freaks and music geeks alike met up at Sherman Oaks’ world-famous Galleria (a nod to the mall scene in the “Free Fallin’” video, although that was actually shot 10 miles away at the Westside Pavilion). And, after a somber moment of silence for Petty, they moved west down Ventura Boulevard, not far from Petty’s former Encino home, as several participants strummed the ballad on acoustic guitars. Lyric sheets in an appropriately ghoulish, medieval font were provided for the sing-along, and the entire event was live-streamed on the Contrary Dame’s Facebook page.
Once the march circled back to the Galleria, fans lingered on the mall steps for over an hour, holding LED candles and singing other Petty classics like “American Girl,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “The Waiting,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “Walls,” “You Wreck Me,” “Breakdown,” “Yer So Bad,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” and “Mary Jane,” led by lookalike Erik Szabo of the cover band Petty or Not. At the end of the night, they crooned “Happy Birthday” for Petty, while staring up at the Valley sky. It was a shame there was no full moon out Thursday, but otherwise, this odd homage was perfect.
“I hope that Tom Petty would think that it was a fitting tribute,” said Soracco. “It was respectful and loving.”