As she sorted through the music her father Tom Petty left behind, Adria Petty was struck by one recording in particular — a homemade demo of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” from his 1994 album Wildflowers.
“I thought, ‘What a weird song to pick as the single, of all those songs,’” she tells Rolling Stone. “They had an album of amazing songs. But there’s something about it that makes you feel at ease — like you belong. The idea of ‘you don’t know how it feels to be me’ — people can identify with that feeling. And ‘roll another joint’ is saying, ‘Tune out the noise for a second because there’s so much of it.’ And that felt appropriate now.”
As a gift to Petty fans — and a teaser of a forthcoming Wildflowers-related project — the Petty family is releasing that demo for free Friday, along with a newly commissioned animated video.
In addition to the unexpected timeliness of the lyrics, the recording — cut in Petty’s home studio before the Wildflowers sessions — provides a glimpse of his record-prepping craft. (Petty plays all the instruments.) The arrangement is close to the finished version on the album; even the lead guitar heard on the final version is played here by Petty.
“My dad’s demos were always really awesome,” Adria says. “They were a good guiding light in the Wildflowers sessions. And this one has a right-out-of-the-box feeling to it.”
There’s also a telling change in the lyrics. Here, the second verse is “I’m so tired of being tired/Sure as night will follow day/Most things I worry about/Never happen anyway” instead of what wound up in the final version: “People come, people go/Some grow young, some grow cold/I woke up in between/A memory and a dream.” The “I’m so tired” verse was ultimately used in the album’s penultimate track, “Crawling Back to You.”
“I know it was one of his favorite lyrics he’d written,” Adria says. “When we did the Runnin’ Down a Dream book, he wanted to put in a few quotes and I brought that one up and he said, ‘That’s one of my favorites — yes, let’s do that.’ My dad was such a great storyteller and so good at being economical with words — he saw more potential in that line as the climax to the album.”
The “You Don’t Know How It Feels” rarity is also the first taste of a continuation of Petty’s labor-of-love project. The Rick Rubin-produced Wildflowers was originally conceived and submitted as a double CD until Petty’s label, Warner Brothers, convinced him to trim it back to one.
“Lenny [Waronker, then head of Warner] listened to it and said, ‘It’s great, but I think it’s too long —you need to cut it down,’” Petty told Rolling Stone in 2013. “We were like, ‘Oh, man, we wanted a double album.’ And he said, ‘Well, it is a double album — the first CD is longer than two vinyl records.’”
After rediscovering the largely unreleased second disc, Petty was planning to issue it all as Wildflowers: All the Rest. His death derailed the project, as did some family tensions that arose last year. But both Petty’s daughters Adria and Annakim and his widow Dana Petty have settled their differences and are proceeding with a project that looks to be even more expansive than Petty himself planned.
Track details are still unannounced, but the project, due later this year, looks to be an exhaustive chronicle of the making of one of Petty’s most enduring albums. “The family and all our engineers and the Heartbreakers have been circling around this project and making it as delightful and completist as possible,” Adria says. “We’re really pleased to be able to share the second half of the Wildflowers double album. But there are also completist versions of how the sessions evolved. My dad was prolific at that time and there was so much recording done. Coming off the ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane’ session, it was a compete evolution of how dad recorded and how he made space for his own feelings. Wildflowers was very personal for him. He wasn’t hiding behind anything.”
In that way, Adria sees the “You Don’t Know How It Feels” demo as revealing of the larger project. “As we were going through things, it took your breath away a little,” she says. “It’s so familiar to everyone, but it has that raw sketch feel to it. It’s a nice window into the project.”
“I have to be in the right frame of mind to do it,” she says of listening to her father’s voice on tape. “It’s like going through photos of a loved one. It can be emotional. But I feel like as a family we’ve crossed that Rubicon — of feeling so stunned that he’s gone. Now there’s a real warmth to what he left behind. We feel touched and honored to be carrying the torch. There will be an extraordinary amount of rad stuff for Tom Petty fans in 2020. I’m just bummed that he didn’t get to put it out himself.”