Last Friday, the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds to cheers and applause, causing racist uncles across these United States of America to lose their shit. Amid the ongoing controversy, Florida-born southerner and American boy Tom Petty has offered his opinion to Rolling Stone, calling his previous use of the Confederate flag in concert “downright stupid.”
In 1985, Petty released a sort-of concept album about growing up in the south, Southern Accents. The resulting tour featured Petty and the Heartbreakers flanked by a horn section and female backup singers as well as a Confederate flag backdrop, used particularly during the tune “Rebels.”He’s what Petty says about the song now:
[The song]’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.
Petty goes on to explain that fans started showing up to his concerts in Confederate attire, and he subsequently told audiences that he would “prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again, because this isn’t who we are.”
It’s doubtful that anyone thought that the Heartbreakers were a bunch of racists, or wished the South won the war—the song was called “American Girl,” not “Confederate Girl”, after all—but Petty still says he regrets using it. Petty also gives a very common sense opinion on how jingoism gets tied up with the flag:
That Southern pride gets transferred from generation to generation. I’m sure that a lot of people that applaud it don’t mean it in a racial way. But again, 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.
As far as musicans go, Lynyrd Skynrd stopped flying the flag in 2012, but Detroit-born Kid Rock continues to wave the Southern banner defiantly. “Isn’t Kid Rock from the Midwest?,” Petty asks. “I think they were on the other side of the Civil War.”