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Author Topic: 1996 InStyle Article  (Read 4907 times)
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« on: February 24, 2011, 10:13:59 am »


InStyle Magazine, Nov. 1996

By Steve Pond

John Mellencamp sits back, watches his two sons romp across his yard, and considers what is for him a new concept: maturity. "It's amazing," he says with a grin, as 2 1/2-year-old Hud and 1 1/2-year-old Speck Wildhorse play nearby. "The person who has helped me grow up more than anyone--is 17 years younger than me."

That person is inside the family's log cabin, helping to prepare a lunch of make-your-own sandwiches, vegetables and salads. She's Elaine Irwin, the head turning 27-year-old New York-fashion model turned Midwest mom, his wife of four years, and the picture of placidity. If you suggest that her composure may stem from the fact that the foursome is relaxing at their cozy retreat, in the dense woods and rolling hills outside Bloomington, Indiana (only 20 minutes from their year-round home), her husband begs to differ. "Elaine has a very positive, calming outlook on life," says one of the more famously stubborn and argumentative rock stars of the past two decades. "It's been very beneficial to me." Mellencamp's talking about his most recent accomplishments: growing up, calming down, learning to relax after 20 years spent writing rock and roll songs. At 45, he has sold 20 million records, made 14 albums, had two failed marriages, five kids, one heart attack, and countless temper tantrums.

Not that he has become a model of gentility; Mellencamp is still a playfully confrontational sort. He'll start an argument just for the the heck of it (hint: Don't mention O.J., unless you're in the mood for a lengthy diatribe about how he was framed), and his conversation is liberally sprinkled with profanity. Says Irwin with a laugh: "I try to teach the kids to be nice and polite. John teaches them to spit and swear."

Even so, his rough edges aren't nearly as abrasive as they have been. Mellencamp's career took off in the early 1980s, when he topped the charts with "Jack and Diane" and "Hurts So Good." During the next few years, he turned himself from a derivative, critically dismissed rocker into an acclaimed artist of real substance with songs like "Small Town," "Rain on the Scarecrow" and "Pink Houses." Times should have been good, but they weren't: Robbed of the underdog status that had long driven him, he refused to take pleasure in his success.

"I turned into a bitter, hateful guy," he says. "I blamed everything that was wrong in my life on my job: 'I'm getting divorced because of my job. I'm unhappy because of my job.' But when you get right down to it, it was all really me. I could not enjoy anything."

He still had that attitude in 1991, when he asked for a model to pose with him for the cover of his Whenever We Wanted album. The photographer hired Irwin, one of Elite's hottest, with several Vogue covers and Victoria's Secret catalogue under her slim belt. Irwin remembers that John took one look and "yelled, 'Who the hell hired her? She looks like she could be my daughter! What are you trying to do, make me look old?' And I thought," adds Irwin, 'He's a big ol' loudmouthed thing.'"

A few months later, in early 1992, she went to see him when he played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. This time, she found him sweet and vulnerable. He remembers thinking, "'Is this the same girl that's on the album cover? She's awfully mature--and pretty.'" Weeks later, they had a lunch date in Detroit. Then she took an overnight bag, flew to Los Angeles to see him, and never returned home. In true rock form, they made a commitment: his-and-her tattoos. On her wrist is a charm-bracelet tattoo bearing his initials; her initials are inside his elbow. "Not exactly a fair deal," she says. "His is a little tiny scrubby one you can't even see." After a whirlwind courtship, they married in September 1992, a year after they first met, just months after their first real date.

For Irwin, being with Mellencamp meant living in small town Indiana, the heartland he champions in his songs. He grew up in Seymour, then moved to Bloomington, home of Indiana University, as an adult. "This was a great place for a womanizer," he says. "Every September, 45,000 girls coming here to get even with their moms and dads, and I was just the guy to even with."

It took more than the right marriage to reform this bad boy. It took a heart attack, which he suffered on tour in 1994. "I had to rearrange my life," says, Mellencamp, who insists that he's now in his best shape ever. "In the eighties, I lived like an animal." He ticks off the symptoms: incessant womanizing that destroyed his marriages, no sleep for days on end, a fried- and fast-food diet, four packs of cigarettes a day. The only real vice that's left, he says, is smoking. He's down to 10 cigarettes a day and hates the fact that he can't quit. ("Biggest mistake that I ever made in my life, smoking.")

"I don't know if slowing down is the right word," he says, "but I'm definitely trying to learn how to live." That includes lots of time with sons Hud and Speck, who are only 12 months apart. He sees his three daughters--25-year-old Michelle from his first marriage, and 15-year-old Teddy Jo and 11-year-old Justice from his second--less frequently. "A monkey could have been a better father than I was to the girls," he says softly. "It's kind of bittersweet, because the boys are really going to reap the benefits of my past mistakes. Same way with my first two wives [Priscilla Esterline and Vicky Granucci]. They didn't really deserve what they got from me. Elaine is really getting the benefit of all those mistakes."

At the cabin, John romps around the yard with his boys, chasing Speck (or "Pecky," as he calls him) and refusing to push Hud on the swing until the older boy gives him a kiss. "He hates kissing," says Dad with a laugh. Mellencamp showers his kids with affection, usually accompanied by plenty of playful roughhousing. With Elaine, he's equally affectionate but less rough-and-tumble: He likes to give her a hard time about nearly everything, but when she sasses him in return he usually backs down. "Anything she does to me," he says with a shrug, "I deserve."

Mellencamp's not the only one who has cleared the decks for this new life. Irwin has all but dropped out of fashion's fast lane. She takes assignments only for fun--and when John can accompany her, as he did on a recent Hawaiian shoot for Giorgio Beverly Hills new fragrance, Ocean Dream. They needn't go to Hawaii to get away; that's why they bought their cabin less than a year ago. The plan is to live in Bloomington during the week and go to the cabin on weekends. So far, they've used it less than that, though it has plenty to lure them. A nearby lake lets them indulge in a new passion, waterskiing. Plus, there's badminton, horseshoes, a shallow swimming pool, and a satellite dish.

The cabin has a huge living room and two bedrooms upstairs. They spent months removing paneling that covered the log walls, installing skylights, and knocking down walls to make three tiny rooms into one large kitchen-dining room. "I took the chimney down, brick by brick," Irwin says. "John was in there with a sledgehammer, though I found him supervising more as the days wore on."

Outside, proudly pointing to a walk he made from recycled concrete, sits the new John Mellencamp, the tamed John Cougar (as he was once called), maybe even a man at peace for the first time. He's a reborn eater--no rich sauces and no red meat--and a committed exerciser: Mondays, the treadmill; Wednesdays, local roads; Fridays, the hill behind his house; and sessions with a personal trainer. "I used to think, 'Who needs a trainer? Can't you work out by yourself, you idiot?' Well, I can't." He's even a newly styled musician. His latest album, Mr. Happy Go Lucky, uses hip-hop and rap-influenced beats alongside his heartland rock and roll. "It was made on a computer," he says, "while all the rest of my records were written on paper."

One song on the album, "The Full Catastrophe," is about his life. "I'm 45," he says, beaming. "I've been making records since I was 23. I've been everywhere in the world. I laughed, I fell down, I cried, and, man, I have lived the full catastrophe. And here I am, still living it." He grins again, and makes it clear that even in this placid, idyllic setting, he's still hanging on to some of the old, cocky Mellencamp. For years, he says, "I thought, 'Damn it, I'll never be more than a footnote to Bruce Springsteen.' Now I don't care. People are going to be f-- and dancing to my songs until the day they die. What more could you want than that? That's as good as it gets. All the rest of that stuff, get it away from me."
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