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Author Topic: 2001 Rochester Article  (Read 5055 times)
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« on: September 16, 2011, 10:04:21 am »

From music to art to racism, John Mellencamp still has plenty to say

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
August 30, 2001

John Mellencamp has a two-decade career of hits and the devil-may-care attitude that comes with surviving a heart attack. He's a finger-flipping, guitar-rebel punk who doesn't give a damn that he's 49 and married to a model, Elaine Irwin. If he wants to smoke and name his kids Speck Wildhorse and Hud, he's gonna do it.

Mellencamp is his "Authority Song'' come to life.

"I'm in a very fortunate place,'' admits Mellencamp, who plays Labor Day at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center. "I can kind of do what I want to do."

And say what he wants to say. If that means offending someone, so be it.

Calling from his home in a rural outpost south of Bloomington, Ind., Mellencamp has opinions like Indiana has teenage kids shooting hoops. Plenty. There's not enough room on his guitar for the issues that raise Mellencamp's rebel ire.

Corporations destroying small-town America are always a big deal with him; hence his unflagging support of farmers with Willie Nelson and Neil Young at Farm Aid. The music business and racism are always on his mind as well. And then there's the movie he shot here last year, AfterImage.

"Other than being in Rochester, I'm kind of sorry I made it,'' says Mellencamp, who plays a crime-scene photographer embroiled in a series of murders. Yet to be released, AfterImage was shown at January's Sundance Film Festival to mixed reviews. Mellencamp claims the filmmakers misled him as to what the final product would look like after editing; the film is heavy on imagery, short on cohesive storyline.

"I'm not really an actor, right?'' Mellencamp admits. "But I am very controlling, and it's really hard for me to turn that over to someone else."

With a wave of the hand, he turns his back on that which disgusts him, in favor of something he can control: painting.

Mellencamp has released a book of his artwork, Mellencamp: Paintings and Reflections, available on his Web site. The images are surrealistic and dark, as though depicting scenes unfolding in an old cellar. The twisted, tortured self-portraits are particularly revealing.

"I was just worn out by the music business in the late '80s,'' Mellencamp says. "I started painting to escape. For me, painting is all or nothing. When you're in that place, it's always Zenlike. Standing in front of a canvas for eight hours straight, it's not relaxing. I'm not thinking, 'Oh, I've been on vacation.' It's problem solving."

Mellencamp wrestles with

solving all the world's problems. "Everything interests me,'' he says. "Health issues. Social issues. . . . I find the only thing that doesn't interest me is these little girl singers. I seem to not care what they're singing about."

And for a guy who runs around onstage with an obscenity displayed on his guitar, he's not too fond of the obscenities he hears on records today. In particular, he doesn't care for rappers using what is euphemistically referred to as "The N-Word."

"Modern-day Uncle Toms,'' Mellencamp says dismissively. "It's really bad for people who buy those records: the young, white suburbanites. There's just nothing good about using it. It's just some guy saying, 'We can use it and you can't.' ''

Hip-hop is no longer the social commentary Mellencamp thinks it should be. He now sees it as racism for commercialism's sake. "I've always been interested in that in our society,'' he says of racism, citing his inclusion of a black family in a song about the American dream. "In 'Pink Houses,' I open with the line about 'There's a black man with a black cat livin' in a black neighborhood.' And in the video a black guy dances with a white girl.

"Plus, my band is very integrated. There's just some stuff white people can't play."

He says that last line with a laugh. Mellencamp is intense, but he has a wry sense of humor, one that's tuned to hypocrisy and pushing the politically correct envelope.

With Farm Aid, and last year's unique "Good Samaritan Tour,'' Mellencamp at least seems to practice what he preaches.

The "Good Samaritan Tour'' saluted the roots of the music Mellencamp grew up with. On the road with only battery-powered amplifiers, an acoustic guitar, two other musicians and his family, Mellencamp bused from campsite to campsite and performed free concerts in downtown parks in cities such as Cleveland, Philadelphia and Boston. Each show was announced only hours before its start, but some drew thousands of people.

"Woody Guthrie did it for years, going where the miners and the farmers were, but we figured if we did it today like that, we would be playing in empty fields,'' Mellencamp says.

He did some of his own songs, of course, but mostly, "They were songs I grew up playing on guitar 20 years ago,'' Mellencamp says.

"That was one of the good things about it. I thought, 'Hell, I can do anything I want.' ''

Of course, if you're an artist who insists on doing anything you want, you might lose a few folks. Mellencamp strayed with his 1996 album, Mr. Happy Go Lucky, which updated his sound with some '90s club rhythms but at least produced a hit, "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)."

He drifted back to his heartland-rock roots with 1998's John Mellencamp, but his old audience had drifted away.

Sales figures for John Mellencamp dropped to the disinterested levels of the bad old days when he was calling himself John Cougar.

Still, his last Darien Lake concert, in 1999, drew 10,000 people.

Mellencamp's new album, Cuttin' Heads, will be out in the fall, with the single "Peaceful World'' ready for the adult contemporary rock stations. It tries to duplicate the formula of his successful duet with Me'Shell Ndegeocello on "Wild Night,'' this time with the R&B singer India Arie.

And, as always, the rebellious artist takes a poke at something he doesn't like. Except this time, the target might be old "Authority Song'' word rebels such as himself. Speaking his mind, it seems, isn't always enough.

"These are just words, and words are OK,'' he sings. "It's what you do and not what you say."
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« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2011, 11:40:35 am »

 :oI didn't know he made a film called "afterimage".
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