Mp3 Bio: the Traveling Wilburys

To some, I’m sure I sound like a raving madman when I say there was ever such a thing as New Coke or Cassingles. Thanks to the internet I can usually prove that such marvelous things did once exist, but there seems to be only so much the uninitiated are willing to hear. Last night, among assorted friends and confidants, I witnessed a similar incredulity when, upon hearing a Tom Petty song play in a bar on the Lower East Side, I explained that, yes, Tom Petty was once in a band with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison. Thankfully there was someone born before the 1980s there to back me up on this, or surely I would have been laughed out of the place for ever suggesting such a silly name as the Traveling Wilburys for this studio-savvy supergroup.

Supposedly, the name comes from an inside joke between Harrison and Lynne, and refers to recording errors and how to cover them (as in, “we’ll bury them in the mix”), which is just the sort of self-effacement I’ve come to appreciate from these mostly modest, down-to-earth rock stars.

It took me a while, having grown up hearing him all the time, to realize that I actually really liked Tom Petty. He certainly wasn’t cool when I was in high school. True, he wrote songs about illicit drugs, but was this music going to piss off my parents? No. I think the first time I realized he was cool was during an interview when, asked about Led Zeppelin’s recent Unplugged performance, Petty snorted and replied, “Unplugged? Fuck that. Plug their asses in.” I’m also fairly convinced the Strokes ripped off the opening of “American Girl” for their hit single “Last Night.”

» Listen to “American Girl” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Selective Service

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Maybe Bob Dylan wasn’t quite so modest as a young man, but when TIME magazine interviews you, I guess it’s all right to act like you’re, like, totally above that crap. Like Petty, Dylan doesn’t seem to show any sign of slowing down or giving up on the whole being the musical voice of a generation thing. I guess that was important to some people back in the day.

» Listen to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan at Said the Gramophone

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For me, Roy Orbison was always the most alluring part of the Wilburys. He has one of the most distinctive and emotive voices in rock and roll, he wears black all the time (badass), and no one has ever seen his eyes. Ever. He’s also the only songwriter I can think of that had the stones to sing about “Crying” so much and, not only did he seem more manly for it, he made me want to cry along just for listening.

» Listen to “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison

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Though by default Jeff Lynne is the least famous Wilbury, that’s kind of like saying Teddy Roosevelt is the least famous face on Mount Rushmore. Granted he doesn’t get the cred the others tend to, but he’s still way bigger than you. Coming in at the tail end of The Move’s highly influential British invasion, he then steered the group to become the Electric Light Orchestra, which turned out to be no small feat, ’cause they, like, own.

» Listen to “Do Ya” by The Move at Recidivism

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Apparently before his highly successful solo career, George Harrison was a member of a band of scruffy Liverpudlians called the Beatles. I’m not making this up, people!

» Listen to “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison at LeTuftsmania

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It’s hard to imagine a comparable band forming today. Who are our great, aging musicians that will continue to inspire each other into their golden years? Will T-Pain and Carl Newman team up eventually? Will Beck and Timbaland and Andrew W.K. and Lil Wayne ever throw down some tracks together? Maybe the Traveling Wilburys were just a one-time thing, which, though sad, does make their short time together all the more special. Well, handle them with care.

And I told you so.


TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

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