There was a time as a 17-year-old boy I loved everything to do with California. To me, it was a mythic place of beauty and wonder. Every time that Good Rockin’ Tonight played the video Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ I stopped everything and stared at the screen. Whether it was the youth in the Stussy T-shirt or Gator skating vert in the video, I soaked it all in. I loved California so much that when I arrive there for school in 1997, it felt like I had come home.
Both the song and the video capture a beautiful innocence. Skateboarding. Surfing. Gliding. Rolling. Negligible friction. Opportunity. My whole life spread out before me. I miss the hope, wonder, and recklessness of that time.
I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I’m gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile
To this day, I still love to skateboard. I go surfing every chance that I get. For me, it’s a chance to ‘leave this world for a while’.
Having said that, the good times never last. This beautiful, sunny song has a dark shadowy side. When he appeared in this video skater Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski was at the peak of his career. He was earning over ten thousand dollars per month and dating the love of this life. Not long after that, Mark suffered from a tragic accident that changed. Mark’s life changed forever. Two years later, he and his girlfriend broke up. He became an alcoholic and eventually committed murder for which he is serving a life sentence.
Like Petty’s Free Fallin‘ each and every one of us has a shadowy side. As a Gestalt therapist, I work a lot with polarities – light and dark. Sunny and shadow. Clients frequently struggle to accept shadowy aspects of themselves. It’s as though they can’t be light if they contain darkness. Or they are not kind if they are ever cruel. Sometimes, it’s cruel to be kind. And there can be a kindness in cruelty. Both are true. Free-Fallin’ is a bright, sunny song – with a shadowy underbelly.
Ideally, with support people can learn to accept and even integrate these shadowy aspects of themselves.
So, on this mid November day, take in a bit of California sunshine with Tom Petty: