Hello and welcome to Betty’s Bodacious Birds!
Strap in folks, this gets involved.
This odd little site has grown out of a delightful thing that happened to me as a teen.
I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and have been for many years, since at least 1983.
In 1989, when I was 18 years old, I got up the gumption to write Tom a fan letter, since he gave us an address to do so in the fan club letter we got back then called “Popular Defective”. (I wish I could find my old copies!)
I sent the letter, but, true to my style, I loaded it with little cartoons of him and the band(in 1989), drawn as bird characters. What compelled me to do birds, I’m not sure, but possibly the main reason is that they stand on two legs and would look kinda normal holding guitars and such.
These little cartoons must have really amused Tom, because, a few weeks later, a package arrived for me in the mail. Along with a kind note from his then-wife, Jane, there was an autographed photo of Tom, and this:
It is my very treasured and cherished “Betty Wilbury” guitar pick. I never understood if this meant he thought I had the sense of humor to be proclaimed a Wilbury, and they stamped one out just for me,or if they had made some of these for fun and it seemed like a great idea to send me one. I hope to find out, now that social media has given me a few ways to possibly ask a few involved people. (Mainly Mike…I distinctly remember reading that HE had the guitar pick stamping machine. Mike, if you find your way to this page, PLEASE help me out, here…if you need to through a third party, go ahead.)
The note said that Tom thought my drawings “were aces”. 🙂
The individual characters are as follows, starting with Tom and the Heartbreakers.
Benmont Tench as a Peacock
Stan Lynch as a Flamingo
Tom Petty as a Rooster
Howie Epstein as Roadrunner
Mike Campbell as a Crane
These were not all drawn at the same time; excuse the different widths in the linework. But it does show their size relationships to each other.
Ben became a peacock because he dresses very dapper to this day, and, he is known for his temper. If you’ve ever been around peacocks, you know that they are loud. Also,I could manipulate the little feather doodahs on top of the head to kinda look like Ben’s hair.
Stan is a flamingo because he is just so freakin’ tall, and he just needs to be something that is a loud color; he was larger than life and amazing to watch. Probably still is.
Tom..dear Tom. The way he strutted around the stage, and could seem like the toughest dude around despite not being a very big guy, nothing else seems to fit like a little bantam rooster.
RIP, our Little Red Rooster.
Howie‘s love for Western shirts made me look for something from the American Southwest and a roadrunner fit perfectly, right down to the little brown poof on the head.
Mike–tall,willowy Mike. Nothing but a long-leggedy bird like a crane fits. While no species of crane out there has this magnificent of a topknot, a few have small ones, so eh, I took some liberties.
In his cartoon form, I almost never show Mike’s eyes. They’re under there, though! 🙂
Oh, but I am not done yet, friends. I ALSO drew the Traveling Wilburys in the letter to Tom. First there is Lucky, who I still call Lucky, not Bob. The drawing of Lucky is actually from my old sketchbook, so it’s an original from that time period–that’s how Tom would have seen him.
(NOTE: I am still working on getting the other Wilburys on this page)
Then there was the SECOND acknowledgement of my letter:
When I was a teen, we got the fan club letter several times a year, and at first when I received it it was called Popular Defective. It was loaded with info, fun stuff, photos, and, short of waiting for magazines to come out with any little article, it was what I (and, I am sure, many others) doted on for info and updates, and pictures of the band.
I know I saved mine, and I can’t find them all for some reason. But I did find the most important one.
I received a total of four copies of this issue, because whoever was running the label making machine printed out four labels for me! So here are the first two:
The other two hilariously read, “Elizabeth”, and then it was as if someone just said, “Oh, Screw it,” and labeled it “Rock Fan.”
Earlier,I had also received a previous issue four times. Worried that my precious newsletter could possibly get sent somewhere else if they decided to re-configure the labels, I had written the office and said, “Hey, I enjoy getting multiple copies, but my name is ELIZABETH STEED”.
So I guess they still hadn’t gotten it straight, because I got four copies of this issue.
Here is the front page. I should also add that I have heard from an extremely reliable source that Lester Esso(the club president) was actually Tom himself.
I obviously got another acknowledgement about the drawings I had sent, but possibly even one more for their getting my name wrong multiple times. How about that? And there are some great callouts to other fans, there, too. I mean, how nice can you possibly be, here?
But still, looking at this today, and looking back at my “Betty Wilbury” guitar pick…Tom read in my letter that I was learning to play guitar(and there’s another tale as to why I stopped that)….it makes me think probably too hard about it…it was almost as if he were saying, “You’re one of us. Keep going. Here’s your pick. You’ll need it.”
That he sent me that gift, and encouraged me, however distant it had to be,in my art endeavors like he did makes it seem all the more raw that he is gone.
But he earned a fan for life from me and probably many other people that he reached out and did kind things for.
I was starting on a letter to him in late summer of 2017, and I thought I had time to finish it and include some new drawings. I had it all planned out…I would draw a HUGE picture of Chuck Rooster on the envelope, hoping to jog his memory–hey, that’s that kid that sent all those goofy drawings and the tape!—and possibly, through the new magic of social media(and of course now that I am much older)start a correspondence of some sort. I have connected with so many famous people I like this way..it seems like it could have happened.
I imagined that if, somehow, I were able to come backstage or something and get to meet him (a feat in itself), and we had had a chance to talk just a bit, we probably would have had a lot of laughs. It seems like our senses of humor were equally warped, drawing little cartoons of people and coming up with funny characters and aliases.
If we had become friends, I could have seen us sharing stupid stories about growing up in the south, calling each other idiots when we weren’t doing other people right, and building up each other’s confidence when we felt low.
I never finished the letter,thinking I had plenty of time to make it good. Oh how overconfident we can be sometimes.
I’m writing this with tears flooding my glasses.
I miss you so much, big brother Charlie T.