Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

On the surface, “Free Fallin’” is about a man trying to forget a broken romance by wandering through Los Angeles. The meaning behind the song is that sometimes we all need to escape reality when life is tough, and we are faced with things we regret.

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne wrote the song almost by accident during a jam session. Once the riff and a few of the words came up, the rest of the lyrics were patched together based on Petty’s fascination with Ventura Boulevard. As a result, the meaning of the song is highly subjective, which the duo doesn’t seem to mind.

In this article, we’ll dive into these touching lyrics and interpret their deep message. We’ll also try to shed some light on the universal experiences the track taps into and explain the songwriting story. Let’s begin!

“Free Fallin’” Lyrics Meaning

Although the song later describes a fair bit of scenery, it begins by describing a girl. She loves “her mama,” “Jesus,” “America,” “horses,” “Elvis,” and “her boyfriend,” too. These well-known lines aren’t meant to put too much focus on any of these traits in particular. Instead, the goal is to show that the girl has a good spirit and an element of purity.

Petty and Lynne didn’t have anyone real in mind when creating this character. Tom Petty said on the record that “I [Petty] don’t know who the girl ” is in the track. She serves the purpose of moving the song’s plot but isn’t based on any individual.

Next, the song shifts and focuses on the singer/narrator, who I’ll refer to as Petty. He’s experiencing a “long day living in Reseda,” which shows that he’s unsatisfied. As he’s living through this day, he begins seeing himself as “a bad boy” for mistreating the girl and “breaking her heart.”

It’s unclear whether Petty was/is in love with the girl, but it seems she was in love with him. Petty doesn’t “even miss her” at the moment, which makes him feel guilty.

These lines are about the regret we sometimes experience in romance. Relationships are very delicate, and it’s easy to hurt people, which can cause guilt later. Apparently, the singer’s guilt runs deep, and it’s intruding on his mind.

What’s his solution? “Free Fallin’” seems to be all he can do. The image of falling is a metaphor for losing his sense of direction and hope. In other words, he’s accepted being lost in the wind and will go wherever it takes him.

His wandering takes him to Ventura Boulevard first, where he sees “the vampires” walking. This is probably slang for people dressed in a dark, trendy style. There are also people like himself “standing in the shadows” while the girls they’ve hurt are at home. It’s a wild circus, and Petty is just one of the freaks.

After Petty freefalls again, the next verse takes us to Mulholland (another LA location). His attempt to escape here still hasn’t relieved him. The girl is still on his mind, and he wants to “write her name in the sky.” His efforts are leaving too much room for pain.

At this point, the lyrics take a depressing turn. Petty wants to wander so deeply that he falls “out into nothing.” This basically means he’d rather forget he’s conscious than remember the heavy reality in his head. To “leave this world for a while” doesn’t mean something literal; it just represents an attempt to completely numb your mind.

Petty free falls once more, and the song ends after the chorus. To sum up, “Free Fallin’” is about a man’s journey to avoid his own thoughts and memories. However, the universal theme has to do with escapism – the desire to leave reality behind when it becomes too harsh.

That feeling is something we can all understand, which is what the song owes its success to.

The Story Behind “Free Fallin’”

Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne had already been jamming when the song was suddenly born. Petty said he “just happened to hit on that main riff” and that Lynne tweaked it with him.

“To amuse Jeff,” Petty started freestyling what later became the song’s opening verse over the new riff. For an inexplicable reason, Lynne then leaned over to Petty and “said the word, ‘freefalling,’” which struck a chord with the duo.

What followed was a ridiculously rapid completion of the rest of the song. On the same day, the duo went into the studio and “made the record.”

As the main lyricist, Petty himself is a bit confused about how he was able to produce the words to the song. He knows the inspiration had something to do with the “great pageant” he saw on Ventura Boulevard every day, but the identity of the girl in the song is a mystery to him.

Songwriting can be very unconscious, and it’s often the tracks that mysteriously come to the artist that change music history. “Free Fallin’” is no exception, as it is Tom Petty’s biggest hit in a 50-year career. Rolling Stone named it one of the top 500 songs ever, and the song’s commercial success would seem to agree with that.

The next time you escape into this masterpiece, know that both the lyrics and the songwriting story are about emptying your mind and letting peace come to you.