Tom Petty has described his past use of the Confederate flag as “downright stupid.”
The controversial banner appeared in marketing material for the Heartbreakers’ 1985 album Southern Accents – but the singer insists the flag was meant to illustrate the feelings of a character who features on the record.
The American civil war-era flag was adopted by the Army of Northern Virginia and has links to racist groups. It has been at the centre of intense debate in America recently, with South Carolina’s statehouse removing it from its grounds last week.
Petty tells Rolling Stone: “I wish I had given it more thought. It was a downright stupid thing to do. It happened because I had one song on the album called Rebels. It’s spoken from the point of view of the character, who talks about the traditions that have been handed down from family to family for so long that he almost feels guilty about the war.
“He still blames the North for the discomfort of his life – so my thought was the best way to illustrate this character was to use the Confederate flag.”
He continues: “The flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Florida. I always knew it had to do with the civil war, but the South had adopted it as its logo.
“I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant. It was on a flagpole in front of the courthouse and I often saw it in Western movies. I just honestly didn’t give it much thought – though I should have.”
Petty argues that many people who feel connected to the symbol “don’t mean it in a racial way” but adds: “I have to give them, as I do myself, a ‘stupid’ mark.
“If you think a bit longer, there’s bad connotations to this. They might have it at the football game or whatever, but they also have it at Klan rallies. If that’s part of it in any way, it doesn’t belong, in any way, representing the United States of America.”
Petty also used the flag in the original sleeve art of 1985 live album Pack Up The Plantation: Live! and says he later had it removed.