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1992 St. Louis Interview
Topic: 1992 St. Louis Interview (Read 1833 times)
1992 St. Louis Interview
January 27, 2012, 12:15:59 am »
The world's a canvas for John Mellencamp, who paints pictures with
words and brush
By Paul A. Harris, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 22, 1992
FOR TWO DECADES, John Mellencamp has pursued the contours of the
American emotional landscape via the rock 'n' roll song. Lately, this
pursuit has spread from the recording studio to the more intimate
confines of his art studio.
Mellencamp, who will appear Wednesday at Riverport Amphitheatre,
continues to tour and record. But he has been increasingly channeling
his creative energy through a paintbrush.
''As a matter of fact, I'm doing a painting right now for Playboy,''
Mellencamp said in a recent phone interview. ''That's what I was
doing this morning. It's an illustration for one of their stories.
''I don't know if it's because I'm unhappy with the music business,
but I just enjoy painting right now. One reason is because I get to
be by myself. I've been in bands since I was 12 years old. I've been
around guys in bands, with tattoos and motorcycle jackets, my entire
life. So being able to stand in front of an easel - just that, to me,
is really enjoyable.''
Mellencamp took up painting as a pastime in 1988. Soon after that, he
began formal study with portrait artist Jan Royce in Bloomington,
Ind., where he lives, and with David Leffel at the Art Students
League in New York.
''When I first started painting, I got really excited,'' Mellencamp
recalled. ''It was like finding rock 'n' roll for the first time.
''When a kid today finds out about rock 'n' roll, I would imagine
he'd want to go back and chase the origins of the music. He'd find
out about people like Robert Johnson, for example. So when a kid
finds Robert Johnson, at least in my mind, he'd have to be excited as
''To me, it was the same with painting. I got introduced to painting
through impressionism, which is sweet but not very real. Then, when I
started really diving into the art itself, it was like, 'Man, there's
been a lot of great painters-' ''
Having absorbed his fill of impressionism, Mellencamp turned his
attention to the American social realists and to a painter utterly
familiar to visitors to the St. Louis Art Museum - German
expressionist Max Beckmann.
''When I found Beckmann's work, I thought, 'This is it for me,' ''
Mellencamp said. ''He was the Bob Dylan of painting for me.
''When Hitler threw all of the expressionist paintings out of the
German museums because those paintings didn't express the way he
thought German life should be viewed, Max Beckmann's paintings were
the first ones thrown out.''
Beckmann came to America in 1947 and eventually settled in St. Louis,
where he taught for a time at Washington University. Morton D. May,
chairman and president of May Department Stores, accumulated the most
comprehensive collection of Beckmann paintings in the world and
bequeathed it to the permanent collection of the St. Louis Art
In Beckmann's work, Mellencamp discovered the same qualities of
anguish and desolation that the singer frequently wove into his
songs. The flat emotional effect and the lurid qualities of light and
texture that one encounters in Beckmann's work are also present in
''I think the human condition is the most interesting thing,''
Mellencamp said. ''It's kind of like the best songs I've ever
written - like 'Jackie Brown' or 'Big Daddy.' To me, they reflect
what Beckmann's paintings are reflecting - the same inner upheaval of
This emotional texture also is evident in ''Falling From Grace,'' the
movie that Mellencamp directed and in which he appears with Mariel
Hemingway, Claude Akins and Kay Lenz. ''Falling From Grace,'' which
has a screenplay by novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurty, focuses
on a fictional country singer who returns to unresolved relationships
and family conflicts in his small Indiana hometown.
Although the critics generally received ''Falling From Grace''
warmly, the film had only a brief run in the movie houses. Mellencamp
blames a lack of advertising from the film company (Columbia) and
American moviegoers' indifference to small-scale movies with complex,
''I thought 'Falling From Grace' was a good little movie,''
Mellencamp said. ''That was a nice little folk song that Larry
McMurtry wrote and that we turned into a movie.
''But the fact of the matter is, it wasn't a racehorse. It wasn't
something that could come out of the chute real strong and finish
real quick, and make millions for the comapny. You know, movie
companies aren't interested in making a couple million bucks. It's
got to be 'Terminator 3' or they're just not interested.
''It was a nice little story, but it wasn't a big, zillion-dollar box-
office hit. Ten years ago - 20 years, maybe - people found those
little movies interesting. They just don't anymore.''
Mellencamp expresses absolutely no desire to repeat his film
experience, either as a director or as an actor.
''I really resent anybody asking me, 'How's your film career
going?' '' he said. ''I ain't got no film career. That's obvious.
''I'm not really an actor. Nor do I want to be. I don't even know
that I think that much of the profession, to be honest with you.
''Musicians are a lot more sane than actors are. I mean, can you
imagine a guy wanting to be an actor? Think about it: You're going to
put on these clothes, you're going to put makeup on your face, you're
going to act like you're sad or you're happy . . . It's a weird thing
for a guy to do.
''I've never been camera shy - I've had my picture taken so much. But
I just felt kind of silly at times.''
Mellencamp's disenchantment with the commercialism of the film
industry extends to the music business. ''Whenever We Wanted,'' his
latest album with the exception of the soundtrack for ''Falling From
Grace,'' came out in 1991 and was his 11th recording. He says the
current music business is not the same industry that gave him his
start as a recording artist in the early 1970s.
''The music business is really a sickening place to be right now,''
said Mellencamp. ''Inside the business, nobody cares about anything
except how many records did they sell. That's all that's important.
In 1992, that is the bottom line.
''Nobody signs acts with the idea of longevity. Today, I'd hate to be
John Mellencamp at 22 years old, which is when I started making
records. I'd hate to be trying to get a record deal now. Doing what I
do, you wouldn't get a record deal.''
Mellencamp says he still finds fulfillment in making an album. What
he dislikes is the commercialism that follows.
''I love making records,'' he said. ''But boy, once that's over, it
becomes an ----kickin'. It becomes like when you were a kid and your
dad took you out in the back yard and spanked you.
''You've got to turn it over to other people. And then, what they do
with it, and worse, what people write about it . . . All of the
commercialism - it's just silly.
''I'd like to find a role model, but I can't. Who am I supposed to
look up to? I don't get it. Doesn't it drive you nuts? Don't you ever
get sick of going to concerts and seeing Budweiser signs hanging
everywhere? God, it's sickening.''
Mellencamp won't make tour-promotion deals with corporate sponsors.
But he won't condemn his contemporaries for doing so, in light of the
wholesale corporate sponsorship that currently pervades popular
Most of all, he tries to keep the musical aspects of his career in
''I'm just going to do what I always do. I'm a blue shirt, a pair of
bluejeans. I've never been a pop singer. I've never had no weird hair
to get my songs over. I've never been that way. I'm going to do what
I do, and if it falls out of fashion, then it falls out of fashion.''
Last Edit: January 27, 2012, 12:55:32 pm by walktall2010
Mellencamp Community Member
Re: 1992 St. Louis Interview
Reply #1 on:
November 05, 2012, 04:27:30 am »
So what you were interested in apart from racing purposes?
horse back riding tours
Re: 1992 St. Louis Interview
Reply #2 on:
November 06, 2012, 04:29:07 pm »
I really enjoy all the old articles.
I have a
James Brown Reader
book edited by Alan Leeds (the guy that does all the liner notes for JB releases and was once JB's road manager) that compiles some really great articles on JB from throughout the years; there's
Racing in the Street: A Bruce Springsteen Reader
by June Skinner Sawyers which as cool.
I wonder if a collection of classic Mellencamp articles would be a viable commercial proposition? It'd be a better read than
Born in a Small Town
which, for me, was somewhat poorly researched.
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