Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:
“I remember Tom saying, ‘My dad’s gonna kill me,’” recalls Tom Leadon, a neighbor first but finally one of Petty’s closest early musical collaborators. “He’d just gotten his report card. I was like, ‘What did you get?’ He tells me, two Ds and three Fs. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this could be the dumbest guy I’ve ever met.’ I was fascinated. Of course, I soon found out he wasn’t dumb at all. But he sure didn’t do much to connect at school.”
“Actually, that one was straight Fs, with a D minus in art,” Petty says. “Someone gave me some special ink so I could turn an F into a B, but it ended up eating the paper. Made it even worse. But I thought it was all kind of funny. I probably gave it a shot at school for about a minute. There was a point where I realized—especially in high school—that the men and women teaching me may not be as bright as me, and I couldn’t suffer that. I looked at them and thought, ‘I’m not really sure you know what you’re doing.’ I could excel at anything I had an interest in. Even a vague interest. Like in English. I got good marks, because I didn’t mind reading something. I liked stories. That hooked me. I could get into how words came together, how sentences were built, stories put together. All of that interested me. It was effortless. I used to get these horrible report cards, but there’d be an A in English. My mother would go, ‘Why do you only study for this class?’ But the truth was, I wasn’t studying for any of the classes . . . that just happened.