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Tom Petty can still rock it on his 'Live Anthology'

Tom Petty has grown up, but not too much.

The 59-year-old spent a year going through thousands of hours of live concert recordings covering Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' tours across three decades.

The result is "The Live Anthology" - not a greatest hits album, but a multiple-disc set. There are no overdubs, and the notorious perfectionist can now see why his hard-driven mates were "a good little rock-and-roll band." Petty, who said the process was like looking at a family photo album, talked to Natalie Rotman of The Associated Press about how watching three films a day helped hone his acclaimed music videos and how his love of English as a kid helped him write some of America's most beloved rock songs.

What made you want to pull out hours and hours of tape?

Well, it seemed like a good time to do it and I thought it would be a chore in a way. I started to do it and I just fell in love with the project. It got better and better. I spent a year digging out stuff and mixing it. It was great. It was like looking at a photo album, but you can all be in the picture.

Did you ever get overwhelmed?

Well, you can. But we knew we had plenty of time to do it. So, we just went bit by bit and pretty soon into the project, we told them that this wasn't going to fit on two CDs. There is no way. To get an idea of what the band was and is, there is a lot of stuff you have to hear to take in an accurate document of all those years.

Did you find anything that surprised you about yourself going through all that footage?

I was surprised that we were as good as we were. I really didn't listen to us when we were back in our 20s and starting out. It was a really good little rock-and-roll band. I see why it caught on.

Any difference between that Tom Petty in his 30s and this one?

I tend now to get to what is really important. I don't let things bother me too much. One nice thing about getting older is that you don't want to fight about anything. The argument just delays the solution, because now I have to deal with this fight, too. I still care passionately about what I'm doing. But I can get it done a little easier than I could.

What do you think about John Mayer recently saying he is writing in the context of you and that he wants Taylor Swift to be his Stevie Nicks?

It is a very nice feeling that your trip is handed down. And I think it is wonderful, really - if the music touched people that way. I was the same way. I wanted to be like George Jones and Tammy Wynette. That was my picture of Stevie - George and Tammy. I wanted to duet like that.

Did you learn poetry when you were younger? What inspires your writing?

I never was a big poem reader. I didn't study poets. I always did really well in English in school. I don't know why I could do it effortlessly. It is just something I do. I like language. I like words. . . . For the longest time, I think, everything I did I wrote the music, and the words just kind of flowed in at the same time. As time went by, I started to concentrate more and more on the lyric and try to make that better and better.

Your videos are iconic. Did that come from your love of film?

I probably watch three or four movies a day. . . . I got into it kind of like music, kind of as a hobby. I love film. It wasn't hard to make something better than everyone else. . . . I was amazed at just how bad MTV was. It was terrible, just terrible. Terrible videos and terrible songs, and most people made them almost all the same. Very silly and I thought let's just get out of the box here and do something different.

What do you think this all means? This album, this life that you have been handed?

It was a gift I was given and what it means I don't know.

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