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  Tom Petty song inspired
  by Florida Spiritualist camp

Tom Petty performing live in Horsens, Denmark, June 2012 (Photo: Ирина Лепнёва)
AMONG the many hits recorded by Tom Petty, the American rock musician, singer and songwriter who died in October, one might be said to have been spirit inspired – but not in a conventional way. It’s about the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Florida, Petty’s home state.

Surprisingly, it seems Petty never visited Cassadaga. He even misspelled its name. But learning of its existence was enough to inspire the words for the song Casa Dega, which he co-wrote with Mike Campbell, and immortalised it musically.

He wrote the words for the song on a plane after reading a New York Times article about the Spiritualist camp.

“There are all kinds of psychics and fortune tellers,” Petty explained later, when asked about its meaning. “It’s this really small place. And I wrote that by putting myself in the mind of someone who went to Cassadaga. Though I spelled it wrong.... Poetic licence, I guess.”

He sings of hanging on every word of the psychic:

That she said to me as she holds my hand

And reads the lines of a stranger

Yeah and she knows my name yeah she knows my plan

In the past in the present and for the future

In the introduction to a live 1978 performance of the song, which can be viewed on YouTube, he told the audience it was about “this town in Florida that has 35 acres of weird people”.

In his early career he was the lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He was also a member and co-founder of supergroup the Travelling Willburys, with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.

During his career, Petty sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.

Cassadaga, which was founded in 1875, has inspired other songwriters, novelists and filmmakers during its long history and is still a thriving Spiritualist community.

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