"American Girl" as written by and Tom Petty....
Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn't help thinkin' that there
Was a little more to life
Somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to
Yeah, an d if she had to die
Tryin' she had one little promise
She was gonna keep

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl

It was kind of cold that night
She stood alone on her balcony
She could the cars roll by
Out on 441
Like waves crashin' in the beach
And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it's so painful
Something that's so close
And still so far out of reach

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl

Lyrics submitted by oofus

"American Girl" as written by Tom Petty

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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American Girl song meanings
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  • +6
    General CommentGod it's so painful when something that's so close
    Is still so far out of reach

    Best line. I love it.
    allenegirlon May 24, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Commenti think tom wrote this song for me. thanks tom.
    jedibiatchon May 01, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI don't know if I think that this is absolutely about suicide... The first verse you have the words "if she had to die trying she had one little promise she was going to keep". I do think it's about the feeling of revenge that comes from being broken-up with by your first love, or revenge from not being loved by a significant male figure in your life, and how a first love relates a lot to all the other dreams and empty promises American girls are force-fed about how grand life can be if we only try hard enough and work fast enough...

    It's funny because in L.A. the ocean isn't that far away, but no one can see or hear or smell the ocean from their apartment unless they're part of the uber-rich. I like how Petty paints a picture of this, comparing the ocean of L.A. being so close but so far and replaced by concrete and cars as a reminder to anyone who's "trying to make it in this town" just how far they still have to go to acheive their dreams and have that ocean view. Just like this girl's dreams of making a name for herself, of finding a man who really loves her, and she's just sick of working at it, sick of all the empty promises.

    Death was close...she could end it all by jumping into that ocean that wasn't really an ocean at all but just a mindless line of cars...but then for a second the man who broke her heart popped back into her mind and she remembered that she made a promise to herself to get revenge, follow her dreams, make something of herself even if it killed her...so she'll go on racing through life forcing herself to make promises about all that life has in store for her, and hopefully run across someone who will teach her what it means to relax and not fight so hard...
    temsabion March 28, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI was reading a tom petty guitar tab book and it explains some of his lyrics...

    "Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by
    Out on 441 like waves crashin' on the beach"

    "I remember writing the song about hearing the cars roll by because I was living in an apartment in Encino, CA by the freeway. The sound was really annoying and we used to jokingly pretend it was the ocean."
    shed27on June 24, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commentim cool
    The Lawloratoron March 25, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYeah, I think it's just a song about a young girl's take on being frustrated in pursuit of her so-called American dreams, filled with awesome imagery from TP's own life experience, as usual.
    PaleolithNickon July 29, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the meaning is a little different than most of ones I have read. First Tom Petty said it was not about a suicide. That is an urban legend. What I think it is about is the disillusionment that can come from loving. She was an American girl raised on Promises- She put her trust in to someone and he broke his promises. It was a great big world with lots of places to run to- Lots of men to run to also. She is using promiscuity to get rid of her pain. And if she had to die tryin' She had one little promise she was gonna keep-That is to herself, not to put her heart out there to get hurt again. Oh yeah, all right, take it easy baby, make it last all night-There is the promiscuity. Well it was kind of cold that night she stood alone on her balcony-He is asleep after sex (typical guy) she decides to get some fresh air. Out on 441 like the waves crashin’ on the beach- the drone of a highway can sound like the ocean. For one desperate moment there he crept back in her memory- She is trying to forget him but, it’s hard when you are alone with your thoughts. God it’s so painful that something so close could still be so far out of reach-She knows what she really wants she will never find through going to bed with a lot of guys but, she can’t put her heart out there yet, her body but not her heart.
    Justguessingon July 12, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI can't hear this song without Silence of the Lambs popping into my head. Great song.
    dreamer63on October 13, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIn an interview, Tom Petty sais that this song is not about the girl who commited suicide at UF, Gainsville. He said that that was an urban legend. The UF, Gainsville dorms does not have balconies. He sais he wrote this song when he was in California and that he lived right by a freeway and remembers thinking that the cars reminded him of waves crashing on the beach, hence the line " she could hear the cars roll by out on 441 like waves crashing on the beach." The comment about her drinking an acid spiked drink and thinking she could fly is ludacris. HOw would someone know this if they were not there? Where are you guys getting these rumors? I would like to know. Is there an article about this suicide somewhere? I DO think this song is inspired by that urban legend. It is true that a girl did commit suicide there in the late 60's.
    chewbakaon April 04, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is my theme song.

    "she couldn't help thinkin there was a little more life, somewhere else" --hell yea there ain't no life for me to live in hawaii

    "God it's so painful when something that's so close, is still so far out of reach"
    ilovejimon May 11, 2002   Link

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