The author sharing a moment with Mike Campbell
Runnin’ Down a Dream
By Ted Tutun
Some say that I should just grow up and get back to focusing on my Wall Street career and my suburban life, that rock ‘n’ roll and its heroes and trappings are for kids and groupies. For now, I respectfully disagree.
The youthful-looking, red-bearded and bespectacled band photographer met us by our seats on the ninth row of the floor. He introduced himself as Justin and asked if we were ready to go underneath. Before I knew it, we were backstage at TD Garden. The whole rock ‘n’ roll vibe was palpable. Backup guitarist Neale Heywood whizzed by us with horn-rim spectacles and his feathered-back hair. I gave him a knowing nod. I was backstage at Fleetwood Mac. All my sensations began to tingle. Was this really happening? I felt like Cameron Crowe in “Almost Famous”, little boy living out a larger-than-life dream. I was about to meet Fleetwood Mac’s lead guitarist Mike Campbell, who’d been Tom Petty’s closest band mate for almost his entire life!
Mike’s wife Marcie was the first to greet us, asking, “Which one of you is Teddy?” I replied that I was, but she could call me Ted. Through a friend I’d made a nominal donation to Marcie’s dog charity to get backstage. She was a gracefully-aging woman in her late 60s, who possessed welcoming energy and intensity. Mike followed closely behind her. Very tall and thin with a grizzled beard, he was wearing black stirrup pants, an old, beat-up cowboy hat, and dark sunglasses. He smiled easily, humbly greeted me, and shook my hand. I honestly don’t remember what his first words to me were, but I now knew what being star-struck felt like.
My head was spinning, and I needed to take a few deep breaths as we entered his large dressing room. On the couch in front of me was Mike and Marcie’s dog Indie. I tried to pat him, which helped calm me a bit, as Marcie related how they’d rescued Indie and I listened earnestly. Then, I congratulated them for being married for 43 years, not an easy task in the music business. They seemed impressed that I knew that.
I asked Mike what it was like to tour with Fleetwood Mac as opposed to the Heartbreakers. He said it was different because Fleetwood did longer tours than the Heartbreakers, which were much more grueling. But it kept him busy, so he didn’t mind it. He liked the band.
In a stream of consciousness, I told them both how much Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers meant to me and my entire family, about how I grew up listening to “Damn the Torpedoes”, and the songs “Here Comes My Girl” and “Refugee”. I rambled on about how we used to consider the Heartbreakers’ music our anthem in high school, and how we always marveled that Tom and his band never wrote a bad song. I told them about taking my kids to the epic last shows in Forest Hills in 2017 and having to miss the very last show in the Hollywood Bowl and how heartbroken I was when we lost him. I volunteered how my 16-year-old daughter cried at the news and that my five different tributes to Tom had aired on the Petty station multiple times.
Then I paused, realizing I was sounding like I was auditioning. He looked at me intently and said, “Wow man, that’s cool. I listen all the time. I’ve probably heard you.”
What was his favorite solo and song to play? Without hesitation he said, “Probably ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’”, which is mine as well.
I complimented him on his songwriting skills and asked about “Boys of Summer” which he wrote — Tom turned it down, but Don Henley didn’t! He laughed and told me about being in a car with Tom once and hearing that song. Instinctively he switched stations, only problem was it was on the next station, too. Tom turned to him and said, “Guess I missed that one, huh Michael?” He also told me about how Stevie Nicks didn’t initially like “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, which he co-wrote with Petty. I told him I thought he had a great voice and loved his Mudcrutch rendition of “Victim of Circumstance”. He nodded, and turning to Marcie said, “Not many people that come in here know all that stuff…”
Sensing he was willing to open up I asked him if he could ever see the Heartbreakers touring again, maybe with Eddie Vedder as lead singer. He said, “I don’t know man. I can’t ever really see us touring again. Eddie would be a great choice but losing Tom crushed me and devastated us all. I mean, he was more than a brother to me, our relationship was deeper than a marriage. I can’t see us touring without him. It would feel like stepping on his grave.”
Then, out of the blue, he asked, “Hey, you wanna go on stage and see my guitars?”
Suddenly, we were onstage at TD Garden, where we peeked into a makeshift closet holding 15 guitars. He was in his element showing me the intricate designs and details of each one, recalling where and when he bought them, and what songs he played on which. He was very proud of his big white 64 Firebird, bought for $500 in a Philly pawn shop, which replaced one Tom broke when he sat on the neck. This is the one he plays for “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, “Black Magic Woman”, and the solo on “Go Your Own Way”.
As our time was coming to a close, I told him I was learning to play guitar, was in a makeshift band, and would appreciate any advice he could give a beginner. He answered, “First off, have fun. Focus on the rhythm, the chords will come. But mostly enjoy it and do it because you love it.”
I said, “You mean do it for real, like the song?”
“Yeah man, that’s it. Do it for real,” he said, handing me two “MC” picks.
I forgot to get his autograph. He seemed like a friend by then.
The show was starting in 15 minutes; our time was running low, but I had something else I wanted to say: “You’ve got so much to tell. You should write a book.”
His reply: “Yeah, maybe when I get old.” (He’s 69.)
And then our conversation was over.
Near the end of the show I managed to get up close. The eye contact and fist pump Mike gave me during his guitar solo on “Monday Morning” is forever etched in my mind. And I couldn’t help wonder: Could two people so totally different actually be kindred spirits forever linked by the will to keep runnin’ down a dream?