John Mellencamp Community

MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION => Articles => Topic started by: walktall2010 on December 13, 2010, 11:29:02 pm

Title: 2008 London Interview
Post by: walktall2010 on December 13, 2010, 11:29:02 pm
London Sun


Life Death Love And Freedom

**** 1/2

Iíd always put John Mellencamp down as a nearly man, nearly in the same bracket as Bruce Springsteen but not quite.

Heíd shifted truckloads of albums in the Eighties. His Jack And Diane were the most celebrated couple in song.

He could sell out vast arenas, write an endless stream of multi-platinum albums ... but something was missing.

Weíd seen Johnny Cougar the pop star but perhaps we hadnít always seen the real John Mellencamp, the uncompromising, searingly honest artist he is today.

His new album Life Death Love And Freedom is, without question, the most compelling work of his 30-year career. It stares lifeís big issues in the eye, unflinching and sincere. It rails against injustices and greed in the United States with unerring ferocity. It confronts the passing years and the prospect of death with compassion and grace. It finds salvation in the power of love and freedom.

Produced by the reliably excellent T Bone Burnett (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss), it has a raw, rootsy sound and plenty of reverb to frame Johnís seasoned tones.

I met the singer, still sporting his trademark quiff, in london this week on his 57th birthday. I found him with both feet firmly on the ground, a man who tells it straight, just like his songs, but thereís plenty of added charm.

He lights up a cigarette (having asked politely if I mind) and reflects: ďI started out as Johnny Cougar and there was nobody in the world, in 1976, gonna take that seriously. And it was an English guy who gave me that name. You guys were big on that stuff. Elvis Costello (real name Declan McManus) and I were talking about how he got the better name last week. I only had one route to take ... to have such big hit records that people would say: ĎNever mind his name, heís got great songs!íĒ

Here, John, who lives in his beloved Indiana with his ex-supermodel wife Elaine, talks about the album, politics, religion and why Jack And Diane still have a special place in his heart.

When you were inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, your friend Billy Joel said, ďStay ornery, stay mean, we need you to be p****d off.Ē What did you make of that?

I donít know what heís talking about! I guess thatís what people think because Iím not one of these artists who is accommodating to people, particularly record companies. I donít have a vendetta against anyone but if somebody says something or does something I donít think is right, I tell them. In todayís pop culture, artists are expected to get in line and conform. What Billy should have said is, ďJohn Mellencamp is a tough guy with heartĒ, thatís what I would have preferred! You know like James Cagney.

Your album title pretty much covers everything ...

I wrote what I thought were things that people my age are confronted with but donít wanna talk about. I was also very mindful of the American songbook, so no topic was off-limits. Thereís a danger of having too many hit records, particularly in the United States. I used to deliver an album and the first question was: ďHow many singles do you have? And I would be like: ďWhy donít you listen to the f***ing album?Ē As time has gone on, I have stepped back from all that. In any case, radio in the United States would never play a song by anybody my age. Itís all geared around people like the Jonas Brothers. Itís almost as if youíre not from Disneyland, theyíre not gonna play you. Knowing that has given me a tremendous amount of freedom.

You confront death in a very open way on songs like Longest Days and Donít Need This Body.

This record is for people who are serious music listeners, serious about their own personal lives and serious about trying to find some kind of comfort. Thereís a real famous actor in the United States, you know him here, I wonít tell you, but heís dying. He called me and I thought: ďWhat the f*** does he want to talk to me about, I donít even know this guy?Ē And he said: ďHey John, listen, youíre record has brought me unbelievable comfort.Ē I said: ďListen man, if you could find one moment of peace through these words, thatís a great success.Ē

Thereís a political aspect to this album. Jena reflects on continuing racism in America.

Hanging nooses in a tree or painting swastikas on a Jewish personís door is not going to solve any problems. This is not the type of country that America needs to be. Donít let the fact that Obama has a ten-point lead make you think heís gonna win this election because people will say: ďYeah, Iím gonna vote for the guy, but when they get in the booth ...Ē

Who is John Cockers (heís the title of a song)?

Heís just a lot of people that I see who are so selfish or so ignorant they canít recognise the value of life. There are a million John Cockers and youíll see them when you walk down the street, when they cut you off in their car and tell you: ďGet the f*** out of my way!í In the United States, values and respect for other people have dissipated. ďI donít accommodate nobody!Ē is the first line in the song and a lot of people feel that way.

So, is society very damaged?

I just saw this thing on TV where this cop killed himself here because he was played out. He couldnít even stand himself. Thatís the hungry beast man! It is inside of all of us. Itís in our DNA to be that way but if people just did what they wanted, it would be like Lord Of The Flies. We would just be hitting each other with sticks. I did an interview yesterday with a woman who said: ďJohn, this record is so depressing that I had to listen to it in dribs and drabs. People want to be entertained and happy.Ē I said: ďListen, when all else fails! But I donít think weíre there yet.Ē

You ask Jesus for ďa ride back home.Ē Are you religious?

I think people use religion in a funny way. Iím not real sure God responds to: ďHelp me get this new job.Ē I donít think he has time for that. If there is a spirit up there, heís not bothered with you if youíre throwing up because you drank too much. I donít think you can make deals like that. In the United States, we have a Right-wing agenda. This Palin woman thinks that the Iraqi war is a war of God. No, itís a war of oil.

What was it like working with T Bone?

Heís the George Martin (The Beatles) of our time. He is so passive and so articulate when youíre in the studio. Heís not like me because Iím all over the place. He knows more about music from 1950 back to 1900 than anybody Iíve ever met.

Does it bother you that youíre best known for Jack And Diane?

That song is 30 or so years old and it gets played more today in the United States than it did when it came out. As much as I am a little weary of those two, I donít know any other two people in rock and roll who are more popular than Jack and Diane. Some people probably think thereís a place in hell for me because of those two people! But it gave me the keys to do what I want. Iím 57 today. Iíve lived the way I wanted to live, sometimes recklessly and stupidly, but still been able to do that. Iíve been able to live on my whims, thatís what Jack and Diane gave me, so I canít hate them too much.

Was there ever a point where you thought you would give up?

Iíve never felt like I was at the mercy of anybody. Even at my lowest point, I was never at someone elseís discretion.

Will we see you touring over here?

I gotta work out how to go on stage without my ears ringing so loud. As soon as I figure that out, maybe. But I am happy to say that I have had a very fortunate life.