Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes:
Petty spent good parts of the Long After Dark tour looking out the windows of his bus, particularly during the southern swing. He was seeing places, people, and images that triggered thoughts of his southern upbringing. More depressed than other regions, the South couldn’t have moved on if it wanted to. The past was right there, in the rotting barns and peeling billboards. Apart from truck stops and strip malls, it looked to him like the South couldn’t afford to be the future, so it remained the past. And it was his past. Backward, beautiful, fucked up, often forgotten, sometimes violent. People who knew music seemed to be aware that most American song traditions came from down there, but they often didn’t know much more about the South than that. It was a place with an incomprehensible character, America’s dirty secret. Somewhere between Walker Evans’s photography and The Dukes of Hazzard, in the trailer parks Petty saw out the bus window, there was a place that he recognized as having a heartbeat of its own. He thought of Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, a meditation on the South that is as much a book of short stories as it is a song cycle. Petty wondered how far he could go in Newman’s direction himself before losing his audience. That, he figured, was just about how far he needed to go.