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Author Topic: 1987 Lonesome Jubilee Tour Article  (Read 29940 times)
walktall2010
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« on: August 31, 2011, 03:39:06 pm »

Mellencamp ripens with age

'A lot of things are going to come out that wouldn't have before, like religion'

The Providence Journal
Nov. 27, 1987

Back when Larry Crane first got to know him, John Mellencamp was 19 and stuck in life's breakdown lane in the small town of Seymour, Indiana.

"John didn't have anything going then. He was just married, had a little girl, a nowhere job. But I was impressed, because he was writing songs."

Crane, 14 at the time, played the guitar and dated Mellencamp's younger sister, Janet. "She said, 'My big brother, he plays music. Why don't you guys get together and play?' We just kind of messed around. He'd come over in my mom and dad's front room, and we'd just work on songs. One thing I hated was sitting down and copying things somebody else already wrote. I liked creating new things."

Glitter Trash

Two years later, Crane joined Mellencamp in Trash, a glitter-rock band founded on the dubious notion that people in their neck of Indiana wanted to hear young men in platform shoes play the David Bowie songbook and similarly decadent songs of their own.

Now, 15 years later, after one of the most unlikely ascents in rock music, Crane is still helping Mellencamp play the songs he's written, songs widely hailed for their portrayal of hard-pressed, small-town lives that have drifted into the breakdown lane. The collaboration that began in the Crane family parlor now plays to packed arenas, including the Civic Center, where Mellencamp and his band will appear Sunday. The show will feature songs from The Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp's fourth million-selling album in a row.

Mellencamp's career has taken two remarkable leaps. The first came when Bowie's onetime manager, Tony DeFries, fell for an unsolicited tape Mellencamp brought him in 1974. From an unknown Midwesterner with no trade and a high school education full of bad report cards, Mellencamp was transformed into Johnny Cougar (a name DeFries stuck on him), recording artist.

As far as most rock critics were concerned, DeFries might as well have named him Rodney Dangerfield. In the early 1980s, critic Dave Marsh wrote this precis of the first six years of Mellencamp's recording career for The New Rolling Stone Record Guide:

'A new low'

"Heretofore, Meat Loaf represented the nadir of what Bruce Springsteen's influence has wrought in the rock world. John Cougar's success in 1982 with Jack and Diane represents a new low: think of him as Meat Head, a boy from Indiana with a chip on his shoulder, but without any of Springsteen's sense of humor and with an actively misanthropic animus towards humanity replacing the Boss's compassion. Musically, Cougar's sometimes fun to hear, in the background - but brought forward, where the part of your mind that thinks must deal with him, his cynicism sours whatever good will his melodies might establish."


Since then, Mellencamp, 36, has replaced "Cougar" with his real name, while completely reversing the critical consensus with music grounded in real-life experience. Songs like "Small Town," a celebration of his roots, and "Rain on the Scarecrow," a memorable distillation of the contemporary tragedy of foreclosed family farms, have won Mellencamp almost unanimous consideration as a legitimate colleague of Springsteen and Bob Seger, an assured mainstream rocker with insight into the pressures and aspirations of America's everyday people and have-nots. Dave Marsh, for one, now praises Mellencamp as "my kind of rock 'n' roll star."

In a recent phone interview, Crane, 31, said the change in Mellencamp's writing has been a natural outgrowth of his maturity.

"He's getting a little more of that inner reflection, so a lot of things are going to come out that wouldn't have before, like religion (a new subtext in Mellencamp's writing that emerges in the single, Paper In Fire). Everybody grows up, and John's no different. It's an aging process. You either get better, or you start looking really stupid."

The Lonesome Jubilee is Mellencamp's most consistent and striking album, but it's not as fully realized as it might have been. Mellencamp asks big questions that only mature rock songwriters address. What is the good, ethical life? How do people cope when obstacles fall in their way? And what joys and respites can they expect to find? Mellencamp clearly is digging in fertile ground, but sometimes his songs fail to strike his subjects' emotional roots. There's a tendency to substitute quick lyrical sketches and pithy homilies for the sort of detailed characterization he drew on "Rain on the Scarecrow." Songs like "Paper In Fire," "The Real Life" and "Hard Times For An Honest Man" are structured almost like small sermons - a couple of short examples, based on vaguely drawn characters, followed by a concluding verse that reaches a general conclusion about life.

The problem isn't that Mellencamp is overly preachy - he isn't - but that the characters and situations in these songs are merely stock illustrations of a preconceived theme. Unlike, say, the array of speakers who populate the songs on Springsteen's Tunnel of Love album, most of Mellencamp's characters on The Lonesome Jubilee are quickly forgettable.

At times, it might have been better if Mellencamp had taken a more clearcut stand, even at the risk of sermonizing. "We Are The People," for example, is rendered almost meaningless as the singer extends his sympathy to the downtrodden and "the fortunate ones" alike - reserving his wrath only for that ever-handy populist target, the self-serving politician. "Hotdogs and Hamburgers" takes a wonderful premise - how the wounds of history enforce a distance between a white youth and the American Indian hitchhiker he picks up - and undermines it with a curiously trivial and incongruous chorus that equates the choice between right and wrong with "the choice between hotdogs and hamburgers." Custer probably preferred buffalo steaks.

The real meat of The Lonesome Jubilee is in the playing. Mellencamp and his band - as good an ensemble as any currently going - play straight-out rock 'n' roll that fully integrates enough acoustic instruments to equip a large folk group. Lisa Germano's fiddle and John Cascella's accordion figure most prominently, with banjos, mandolins, steel guitars and even hammer dulcimer and penny whistle providing tasteful accents. Kenny Aronoff's exceptional drumming, a rare, almost peerless blend of power and flexibility, is the indispensible foundation for this exhilarating merger of electric and acoustic music.

Old '60s rock and R&B songs

"It wasn't like we set out to change our sound," said Crane, who plays guitar and five other stringed instruments on the album. "John knew we had the capabilities to play these things. He said, 'Why don't you bring some of these weird instruments in, and we'll use them.' "

Before recording his previous album, Scarecrow, Mellencamp and band worked themselves into shape by learning scores of old '60s rock and R&B nuggets. On the Scarecrow tour, which included the best rock show seen at the Civic Center since Springsteen's last appearance there, they finished each night with a long medley of oldies.

This time, Crane said, the show will include only one '60s tribute.

"We started out to do that '60s thing again, but it was real hard finding songs. They use all the songs in commercials now. It's hard to find good old songs that somebody hasn't already done, or they don't have raisins dancing to it or something like that."

With 10 bristling, innovative rockers from The Lonesome Jubilee added to his songlist, and reworkings of some of his older material that use the electric-acoustic blend, Mellencamp and his band won't lack for exciting music to play.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2011, 12:34:50 pm by walktall2010 » Logged
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