With the release of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' latest album, there has been some controversy as to whether their single 'Dani California' steals a guitar riff from the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit, 'Mary Jane's Last Dance.' Always one of my favorite Petty tracks, 'Mary Jane' was first released on 1993's Greatest Hits collection, and reached Top 20 status.
While it doesn't take too much effort to pick up on the song's undertones about marijuana (aka: Mary Jane) the music video takes an alternate route, choosing a literal interpretation of the song title. By literal, I mean Mary Jane is dead, and Petty takes her home and dances with her corpse. That brief explanation doesn't do the video justice, however. While the concept of necrophilia may be a bit hard to stomach, the video actually portrays the relationship in a much deeper, affectionate way. The body of Mary Jane is portayed by actress Kim Basinger, and Petty plays a man who longs for her to come back to life. Once he has taken her home from the morgue, Petty tries to be romantic by dressing her up as a bride and making dinner for her, but the deceased Mary just slouches down in her seat. In the end, after sharing a "last dance" together, Petty decides he is ready to say goodbye. In a strangely poignant moment, he carries his bride down to the ocean and sends her off with the tide.
Ever since the first time I saw this video, I have felt it provides a different level to the song. Emotional elements of love and loss both come into play, and could just as easily be applied to a drug reference as they could to the subject of the music video, or any multitude of other interpretations for that matter. I find this music video exceptional not only for its gothic and poetic appeals, but for its ability to show sadness while maintaining a wry sense of humor. It is an interesting combination that works well with Petty's Dylan-esque roots.
To compare the RHCP and Petty tracks for yourself, you can listen here. Once you've chosen a side, let me know what you think.