This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.
We were the MTV generation, and for a stretch during the '80s and '90s, words and pictures melded together in perfect harmony, a perfect pop cultural storm. None more perfect than Petty's videos.
"Free Fallin'", from 1989—when the earliest and bravest explorers of the uncharted '90s first started beaming back messages to the mother planet— is one of Petty's more straightforward video-stories, yet it's still packed tight with an unassuming yet sharply wrought commentary on contemporary Americana—Petty's stock and trade, after all.
Our teenage hero (Devon Jenkin), a golden-haired, sun-kissed Cali girl, looking for more out of life than formal wear and backyard pool parties, finds salvation in a skateboard. Our narrator (Petty) sings of wanting to write her name in the sky, to free fall out into nothin', while we watch Devon breaking free, soaring in glorious slow-mo through the air, reaching for the sky, finding her bliss.
It's quite possibly Petty's most beautifully heartrending song—every gorgeous guitar stroke reverberating deep down in our souls. Paired with an equally affecting video, the song becomes everything we've ever needed, all the feels, all of 'em at once. Pure pop perfection. Truly sublime.
The images from the video have remained firmly planted in the collective consciousness of so many of us who were deeply affected by seeing it in 1989, and then simply never forgot those feelings. We couldn't, even if we tried.
Petty's song, the video, it all tapped into our already existing uncertainty with life, our hopes and dreams, projecting visual evidence on screen of everything we were feeling. Unlike so many adult authority figures in our lives, this song and video from an established Boomer artist never demeaned us. Instead, it honored us, the lost generation, slackers, alternative kids, Generation X.
We were all Devon, we each understood all too well how she felt, recognizing her uncertainty and desire for more, and for a moment, while watching and listening, we felt like someone else also understood.