Running Down an American Dream: Tom Petty and the Tour T-Shirt

Ohagan, Lauren (2019). Running Down an American Dream: Tom Petty and the Tour T-Shirt. In: Sands, Crystal ed. Tom Petty: Essays on the Life and Work. McFarland.


Tom Petty has often been described as an artist who pushed the boundaries of creativity. Whether through his videos, lyrics or album covers, Petty was never afraid to experiment, explore new concepts and challenge fans to search for their own personal meanings in his work. This paper explores an often neglected part of originality in the Tom Petty story: the tour t-shirt. Using multimodal analysis to investigate three tour t-shirts from 1991 to 2003 (Touring the Great Wide Open, Dogs with Wings and The Last DJ), the analysis will demonstrate how image, color and typography, as well as layout, design choices and materiality, were used innovatively to transmit symbolic meanings on a core aspect of Petty’s recordings: the American Dream. The investigation concludes with a summary of the benefits of considering Tom Petty’s work within the context of multimodality, and the lasting appeal of his tour t-shirts.

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