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The world doesn't turn on John Mellencamp's timetable.
March 17, 2014 7:28 PM   Subscribe

62-year-old John Mellencamp on success, ageing and lessons learned. [single-page print view]
posted by paleyellowwithorange (47 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dude had his head cut off and came back to do… all that.

I now understand just about everything I've read/heard about JM since the early 80s.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:52 PM on March 17


I have always heard the lyric, "I remember when you could stop a clock" from Pink Houses, as 'I remember when you could starve a flower."

I still like to sing it this way.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:59 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


That's how a man should remember lyrics.
posted by thelonius at 8:00 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I've been to the top of the hill, and there's nothing up there.
posted by shivohum at 8:03 PM on March 17 [13 favorites]


Robert Plant taught me a shitpile and he didn't know it.

I know what these words mean, and I know what John Mellencamp means by them, but there's something hilarious about the sentiment that I can't quite explain by reference to either.
posted by clockzero at 8:04 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


If you haven't listened to him lately, his newer stuff is really pretty good. No Better Than This is one of my favorite albums of the last few years.
posted by octothorpe at 8:06 PM on March 17


John Mellencamp is a BADASS. Best interview I've read with a rock icon in years.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:08 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


John Mellencamp is one of those artists who only got good after he wasn't any good anymore, if you get my meaning.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:12 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I always assumed it was "starve a flower", meaning there was a time when she was young and thin.
posted by sourwookie at 8:15 PM on March 17


When I was in Ireland everyone was freaking out about John Mellencamp playing extended Dublin shows and It was really a huge media blitz with think articles , reviews, retrospectives, counter reviewers and lots and lots of talk about the what it all meant and I couldn't figure out why the singer of Jack And Diane was like, a huge folk event occurring.

This article cleared A LOT of that up.
posted by The Whelk at 8:24 PM on March 17


I used to call him John Cougar Mellenhead.

I still call him that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:25 PM on March 17


Wow. Some celebrities are worth celebrating.

I have always heard the lyric, "I remember when you could stop a clock" from Pink Houses, as 'I remember when you could starve a flower."

Me too! Even when you find out it's stop a clock, it still sounds like starve a flowerrrr...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:29 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


He's been working with T Bone Burnett. A man should have T Bone Burnett produce his records, that is good.
posted by thelonius at 8:30 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I think that what he's talking about WRT the head-cutting-off thing is hydrocephalus, which is one of the occasional complications of spina bifida. Dude does have a big, well, melon.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 PM on March 17


When I was in Ireland everyone was freaking out about John Mellencamp playing extended Dublin shows and It was really a huge media blitz with think articles , reviews, retrospectives, counter reviewers and lots and lots of talk about the what it all meant and I couldn't figure out why the singer of Jack And Diane was like, a huge folk event occurring.

This article cleared A LOT of that up.


How so?
posted by clockzero at 8:32 PM on March 17


From the linked article:
What have you learned about addiction?
I was very lucky. I haven't been drunk since 1972, and I haven't done any drugs since 1973. Other than tobacco, which is a big other.


A "big other" is one way to put it. In other interviews, he's said that he's always had a problem finding women who didn't mind him smoking during sex. And how he went to the emergency room, and the doctor started explaining to him that he was currently having a heart attack, and after a bit he stopped the doctor and said "Sorry, I'm going to have to stop our conversation so I can go have a cigarette".
posted by 445supermag at 8:54 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


That read like a Studs Terkel interview. (And that's a good thing.)
posted by mudpuppie at 8:55 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


John Mellencamp is one of those artists who only got good after he wasn't any good anymore, if you get my meaning.

my thoughts exactly. I found his big selling second-degree Springsteen shtick pretty punishing through the bulk of the 80s. Mind you, I felt the same about much of Springsteen's stuff that decade, too.

The 80s were like that.
posted by philip-random at 9:46 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


John Mellencamp is one of those artists who only got good after he wasn't any good anymore

Yeah, it was a bit much for awhile. But I always kinda liked "I Need a Lover," from '79. "I need a lover that won't drive me crazy/ Some girl who knows the meaning of 'Hey, hit the highway' ". Right?

I wasn't a big fan when I saw him (and Loverboy!) open for the Who at Sundevil Stadium in '82 (?). But- while he was playing, somebody lofted an empty half-pint (of Jack, probably) at him from halfway up the stands on stage-left. And it arced, must have been 20 horizontal yards from up there, and it floated through the air, hit him square on the head, and knocked him right off his feet.

They either carried or walked him off-stage, I can't remember, but then... he came back out a few minutes later, in a yellow hard-hat, and played "Hurts So Good." It was never my favorite of his songs, but I always thought that was pretty funny.

Several years after that though- after he stopped automatically going multiple-platinum - he did Now More Than Ever, which is my favorite of his songs. The video is hella 1991, and full of kids for some reason, but the sound is pretty modern and man, that hook...

or, the same song without inexplicable pink-clad 90's kids, here
posted by hap_hazard at 11:33 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


I used to call him John Cougar Mellenhead.

He says he was a lucky guy. Given that he decided to drop Cougar as a stage name, long before it became associated with middle-aged women chasing young men, I'd say he's lucky too.
posted by three blind mice at 11:52 PM on March 17


At some point, my respect for Mellencamp and my respect for Morrisey completely switched places.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:52 PM on March 17 [8 favorites]


Well supposedly he never wanted to be called Johnny Cougar to begin with, but come on, why would you not?
posted by hap_hazard at 1:59 AM on March 18


The 80s were like that.

I got to the top and there was nothing there.
posted by chavenet at 2:15 AM on March 18


I always sort of liked his cover of Wild Night better than the original.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:19 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


John Mellencamp was just a part of the 80s radio background of my childhood, so that when he came back--as it were--with the cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night" and a handful of other singles in the late 90s/early 00s, color me surprised as anyone else that I actually liked them more than I did his classics.
posted by Kitteh at 4:20 AM on March 18


Dude's not a bad painter, either.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:26 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Maybe apocryphal, but I've heard that his nickname was Little Bastard because he was such a pain to work with, and the record execs would refer to him by that name.
posted by Thistledown at 6:14 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Never been a fan of his music, but I can respect someone who comes out the other side of the fame machine (especially the music fame machine) with all their fingers and toes.
posted by Mooski at 6:20 AM on March 18


He's something of a hometown celebrity for me, so I alternate between over-saturation annoyance and respect. For a while, there was this thing about Republicans trying to appropriate the guy who first became politically active as a critic of Reagan farm policy, including a ridiculous scene where former-VP Dan Quayle made a big show of showing up and walking out of a Mellencamp concert when Mellencamp was touring in support of an album of protest songs.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:26 AM on March 18


I was a latecomer to being a Mellencamp fan, but I think the guy's a national treasure. This artcile really only enhances that belief.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:28 AM on March 18


The sooner everybody realizes happiness is not like a god given gift, but problems are, the more you're going to enjoy life.

I want to frame this.
posted by swift at 7:11 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Apparently he used to get the nicotine jones waking him up for a dead sleep, poking him in the arm: "Hey, get up - you need a smoke". Ouch

Also, he got cornfield-racists to lose their shit with one music video of two kids dancing to a song about nostalgia, and then reacted with a big "Fuck you" to threats of violence because of it.

Well played.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:11 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


"We all want to world to turn on our timetable but it just doesn't. Once you get that in your head, then success becomes less important and failure becomes not important."

Yeah well John .... thanks for the apparent mind-set foundation for this memory:

Outdoor concert at Harvey's Tahoe ... mid-2000's .... John Mellencamp with John Fogerty opening. Personal dream-concert-combo anticipation here. Concert starts. Fogerty was a guitar playing whirling-dervish; LOVING what he was doing; energetic; right-on and a joy to watch.

Then oh boy - be still my heart - as good as that was, here comes Mellencamp & thinkin' I'm gonna never forget this night....

Mellencamp was the equivalent of a wet rag; oozed the feeling that he wished he was anywhere than where he was; literally pretty much let the audience sing for him (not kidding - he basically stood there, started a song like Jack and Diane and then stuck the microphone in the air for us to sing the song); moved around the stage like a wet rag; sucked the music muse and joy in the evening that Fogerty had left lingering right out of the air. Worst performance I've seen ever (and over the years I've seen a ton)

Still love his music/lyrics - but lost a lot of respect for the man that night. Maybe he was sick - but if that was the case, own up and share with your audience, don't just not give a sh** and come out and fake it because if you don't you don't get paid. Ended the "performance" with one last song (which none of us realized WAS the last song).... and left. Literally walked off the stage and left us all going WTF?

That night left a real bad taste in my mouth for aging performers who feel they don't owe their audience anything anymore other than the supposed "honor of their presence." I suppose Mellencamp came off as badly as he did in no small part because of the joyous contrast that Fogerty provided. THAT man - is a gem, and still obviously appreciates and loves what he does.
posted by cdalight at 7:18 AM on March 18


I'm kind of an idle fan. I think the only record of his I currently own is American Fool (my brother bought this copy new when it came out). It's hard to see now, ubiquity and 30 years having worn off all the interesting corners and edges, but Jack and Diane was a monster for a reason. It's so strange. The production and arrangement are killer - the gated drums, the gang chorus/bridge things, the empty spaces, the handclaps, the big diamonds on the coda/fadeout, The Rebel Without a Cause impression. It's an odd song (but lord I so love the 80's as a fertile ground for odd hit songs.)

For a while the erstwhile Mr. Cougar got unfairly (and negatively) perceived as a half-assed Bruce Springsteen. The only way it seems accurate, to me, is that the substance of their songs was really quite critical of the patriotic establishment that seemed to champion it. Pink Houses and Born in the USA hit some similar thematic notes, and each has a chorus that you can sing at a baseball game or something, but each has verses that are pretty bleak. Pink Houses came out in 83, Born in the USA in 84.

Needless to say, he ain't the Boss, but who is? The Stones are pretty good, I think we can all agree, but they aren't the Beatles. Uh, not comparing JM to the Stones, either, just making a point. At any rate, John Mellencamp has a bunch of good songs, has had a long, robust career, and has a specific voice and viewpoint. He shouldn't be punished simply for NOT being Bruce Springsteen. We already HAVE a Bruce Springsteen, we don't need two.

The Johnny Cougar to John Mellencamp thing is funny, too. A friend of mine, a guy I play music with sometimes, is really an excellent singer/songwriter and his name is probably the same amount of "clunkiness" that John Mellencamp's is. I can't imagine an A&R guy (do they even exist, now?) trying to change his name to Panther or whatever. So maybe we have grown as a culture, a little bit.

Finally, coolest thing about John Mellencamp - in the Lou Reed song, Last Great American Whale, the last line in the song is, "It's like what my painter friend Donald said to me - 'Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they're done'", and the painter friend is Mellencamp, and Lou wrote it as "Johnny". Of course, I can't find good confirmation of this online, but I remember seeing Lou Himself say it. At any rate: having a speaking role in a Lou Reed song is pretty hefty cred.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:57 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I'm kind of an idle fan. I think the only record of his I currently own is American Fool (my brother bought this copy new when it came out). It's hard to see now, ubiquity and 30 years having worn off all the interesting corners and edges, but Jack and Diane was a monster for a reason. It's so strange. The production and arrangement are killer - the gated drums, the gang chorus/bridge things, the empty spaces, the handclaps, the big diamonds on the coda/fadeout, The Rebel Without a Cause impression. It's an odd song (but lord I so love the 80's as a fertile ground for odd hit songs.)

The drums were an early Aronoff, who became one of the leading guys that producers went to for good drum tracks to go with, well just about everyone.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:21 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I've been holding a grudge against him ever since a Keith Richards & X-Pensive Winos tour where he and his party took the whole left mezzanine at a general admission show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago like a skybox private party. It's been more than twenty years now, I should let it go and maybe give him a listen.
posted by readery at 9:14 AM on March 18


I've had tickets for Mellencamp concerts twice. Once somebody in his band was injured in a boating accident and the tour was cancelled, and the other time he had a heart attack and the tour was cancelled. So as much as I would like to see him live, I sort of feel like bad luck.

I went to Purdue in 1985 - so he was on the radio pretty much 24 x 7. I was a metalhead, so I hated, hated, hated him. Once I graduated and made an effort to start listening to grown up music I realized the guy could write a catchy song, and often had something interesting to say while he was singing. So now I'm a big fan. I also went back to metal, because fuck it. I like it, and I'm old enough to not care what anybody thinks about that.
posted by COD at 9:28 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


"Paper in Fire" is one of my Mellencamp favorites.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:36 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Any time I wanted to exert a reflexive dislike of Mellencamp, I just remember that he gave Lisa Germano a big leg up in the industry. I'm sure that '80s session money helped bankroll a lot of her best 4AD stuff.
posted by mykescipark at 11:32 AM on March 18


I have always heard the lyric, "I remember when you could stop a clock" from Pink Houses, as 'I remember when you could starve a flower."

I always heard it as, "I remember when you could stop a plough." I kind of knew that couldn't be it but it made sense to me too, especially given Mellencamp's roots and the video for the song. I supposed it meant something like, "You were so young, strong and virile that you could hold back the oxen as you were ploughing a field."

Also, my late wife saw him live in the early '80s and she said he was falling-down-drunk while onstage, and slurred and forgot the lyrics during the whole performance to his band's palpable embarrassment. So I'm not sure that I believe he's been on the wagon since 1972.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:34 PM on March 18


I remember seeing him on Behind the Music and he was talking about how he smoked 5 packs a day. I cannot even imagine, and ever since then, when I see him, I get a little grossed out.
posted by dotgirl at 3:41 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Any time I wanted to exert a reflexive dislike of Mellencamp, I just remember that he gave Lisa Germano a big leg up in the industry. I'm sure that '80s session money helped bankroll a lot of her best 4AD stuff.

The guy comes off of tour for Scarecrow and gets cozy with banjo and fiddle for Lonesome Jubilee, which was a weird sound at the time. As a struggling amateur teen at the violin and viola, "Paper in Fire" comes along with Germano blowing away the nice dainty studio strings or orchestral bombastics that everyone was putting behind rock songs in that decade.

The older folk and country influences have always been there. The guy did a whole album of early country and blues protest music, adding additional lyrics in the spirit of the original to thumb his nose at Bush-2. So the Burnett connection doesn't surprise me.

I figure that with almost a half-dozen almost-perfect songs, Mellencamp is probably well ahead of the curve. On the other hand, he also recorded one of my most hated Christmas songs, a performance that was inescapable because he was a home-town hero. That particular song is one of the few things about Christmas music more horrifying to me than the yearly church "O Holy Night" solo.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:51 PM on March 18


[clap clap]!
posted by Renoroc at 9:05 PM on March 18


Paper in Fire is a great track. I also really like Martha Say and Check It Out -- maybe it was really the Mellencamp + Germano violin sound I loved the whole time, and I did go on to buy her solo albums, too (You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses!).

Wikipedia says Mellencamp wrote Big Daddy about his own infidelities, which surprised me because it is pretty bruising. It seems like there is no small self-destructive streak built in there, so props to him for surviving and helping build Farm Aid.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:02 AM on March 19


Here is a great interview with one of Mellencamp's backup singers on Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy (she later went on to great success with Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen) re working with Mellencamp and making the Paper in Fire video.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:36 AM on March 19


Re: lyrics - I always though "Cherry Bomb" went "That's when a spoke as a spoke".

Like "Fuck all this new-fangled wheel Shit, gimme an old-school bike!"
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:43 AM on March 19


Cherry Bomb still gets stuck in my head regularly.

I've never bought a single album of his, but if I encounter one of his songs on the radio I can't help but listen to it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:21 AM on March 19


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