Tom Petty was a legendary singer and songwriter who wrote songs that often contained a human touch. Although he may not have been aware of his inspiration source, his music reflected the essence of America. Petty’s music is filled with stories of those who belong among the wildflowers and those who are free falling into nothing. However, one of his most famous hits took a more unsettling turn.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is a title that could easily lead one to think that Petty was referencing marijuana, which he was known to use and even praised in later songs like “Don’t Pull Me Over.” However, in the music video, Mary Jane is actually a person. The dance depicted in the video might be a bit of a one-way affair, and it’s quite macabre.
Tom Petty takes a dark turn with the music video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” The video features Petty playing the role of a coroner who becomes infatuated with the lifeless body of Mary Jane, whom he finds at the morgue. Throughout the video, Petty interacts with the corpse as if it were alive, taking it back to his house and attempting to win its affection through dance.
Set to a minor key, the song’s eerie lyrics and haunting melody perfectly match the macabre visuals of the music video. As the song reaches its climax, Petty realizes that he cannot keep the corpse forever and releases it into the sea, a chilling end to the disturbing story.
Interestingly, Petty had considered Kim Basinger for the role of Mary Jane in the video. It’s a testament to the video’s lasting impact that even today, fans continue to be fascinated by its unsettling portrayal of obsession and the lengths to which one will go for love, or in this case, the illusion of it.
“I said, ‘She’s got to look really good, or why would he keep her around after she’s dead?’ I thought, ‘Kim Basinger would be good. I’d probably keep her for a day or two, let’s go see if she would do it’. You can make a joke about it, but you have to act a bit to be dead. It’s not easy”.
Tom Petty’s hit song ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ has often been interpreted as a song about marijuana due to the title. However, Petty has never confirmed this and instead hinted at a connection between Mary Jane and the free spirit in his hit song ‘American Girl’. The song was also written during a difficult time in Petty’s personal life, as his marriage to his wife Jane was falling apart. While the breakup wasn’t made public until years later, it’s believed that this song served as a goodbye love song to his marriage.
Interestingly, the tensions within Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers, may have also contributed to the breakup. Petty and drummer Stan Lynch were at odds over the direction of Petty’s solo album, Wildflowers, and Lynch only agreed to play on ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ because it was included on a greatest hits album. After finishing Wildflowers, Petty called Lynch to inform him that he had been fired from the band. Thus, ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ can be seen as the end of an era for the Heartbreakers, as it was one of their last big hits and marked the end of Lynch’s time with the band, which had begun with the hit ‘American Girl’.