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Author Topic: Mellencamp's Style Diary  (Read 7332 times)
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« on: March 03, 2011, 04:55:37 pm »

John Mellencamp's style diary

Rolling Stone, 9/16/99

By John Mellencamp

Florida is a place where success goes hand in hand with failure, where the people on the streets are at the absolute peak and the bottom of what we're about as a society. What's great is they all just love mingling together, everything nice and messy and sweaty. You know what I'm getting at: They're about true style -- the attitude underneath the clothes.

* Florida has some of the most beautiful women, cars, houses, boats and weather in the world -- but also some of the biggest damned hillbillies on the face of the earth. They call the townies in West Palm Beach crackers, and I've probably got a lot in common with those local outcasts. One of my favorite authors and playwrights, Tennessee Williams, did some of his best work in Florida. I wrote a song with George Green in '96 about falling in love with my wife, "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)," that used Florida as a backdrop. And I later shot a video in the Keys for "Just Another Day."

* All of these factors, combined with the heat, make Florida a sort of Garden of Eden on the griddle, and the best time to go to Florida is probably in the autumn. But this year we got to Florida in July, not October, and we were on tour, not on vacation, and it was so fucking sweltering on the afternoon before we played the Coral Sky Amphitheater in West Palm Beach that you couldn't walk a step without getting soaking wet from your own fluids.

* By 2 P.M. there was a heat index of 115 degrees under a hazy, windless sky, with 1,000 percent humidity. And it was exactly at the stroke of two o'clock that ROLLING STONE turned up with a bunch of fall clothes for me and my wife and band to try on for a damned photo session.

Now, I like photo sessions even less than I like making videos, and I think the reasons I hate 'era both are maybe similar to the reason why Tennessee Williams announced in 1961 that he wasn't gonna have any more sessions with his damned psychoanalyst: "He was meddling too much in my private life!"

* Williams wasn't trying to be funny so much as he was trying to define the difference between what he would offer the outside world and what he wanted to save for himself. You want the public to look all they want at the stuff you've worked and suffered some to extend to them. But style is something I think you're supposed to keep pretty much to yourself; it's somebody else's discovery about you.

* My style is the absence of it. And when it comes to fashion, mine is everything that's left after the circus leaves town without me. It's funny, though, 'cause one time twenty years ago I got fed up with wearing hot boots and wanted some with the top section removed -- all that animal hide above the ankle always seemed like wasted material to me. So I had a black-and-brown pair made special by a company in Texas called Nakona Boots, which had made such things in the Fifties, when men's pants were too tight to fit over boots. They cut off the tops right down to about an inch above the heel. Cool and comfortable as can be.

* I wore those cutoff boots every place I went for years -- until I started seeing other people wearing them the same way. This annoyed me. I mean, I come from Indiana, a part of the landscape where people wear boots for a good reason -- to stay above the mud and the shit in the countryside -- and seeing the random weirdos in urban areas wearing a manufactured edition of my own shoe style made me feel the point had gotten poisoned a little bit. You see where I'm going with this?

* So I looked at the wool suit that these ROLLING STONE fashion people were holding out for me to put on, and I know I made a mean face, because I'm not used to wearing anything I haven't picked out for myself and then slept in twice. But I took my wife aside and asked her whether she'd split the outfit with me, because that suit suddenly made me think of a photo by Brassai in his book The Secret Paris of the 30's. It was a picture taken at a wild party, the Bal de la Montagne Sainte-Genevieve, in 1931.

* The photo, shot from behind, shows what the book refers to as "a young couple wearing a two-in-one suit." It doesn't make any big deal about the fact that the couple is two guys; the emphasis is on the fact that the look is pretty sensible at that particular party in Paris in the Thirties.

* For Elaine and me, stuck in Florida in a temperature of 115, I'm sure Brassai would agree that the two-in-one style was just as sensible, so we took off all our clothes on the spot and shared what was available in whatever way seemed to fit best. Which is rock & roll, anyhow.

* Which kinda brings me to the real business at hand that day, which was playing music that night for a paying audience. Unlike style, which for me is a private accident that spills into a public place, music begins in a private space but moves on purpose into a public forum. To be a professional musician is to try to create a sense of community in a room full of strangers and make that feeling right, to where it becomes a real thing and not something just for show. It's the end result of years of playing and writing and then daily hours of rehearsal, continually doing the same songs time and again so that everyone knows their instruments so well that they can finally go beyond their parts and find some magic for the audience.

* I can put anything I want on my records, and I'm proud of pretty much all of them. And when I'm all by myself in my house, I can play anything I want by anybody I admire, from the Drifters to Dylan. But I never really got the idea of people like myself getting onstage and not playing the songs that the people in the audience have forked over their hard-earned money to hear. My reaction as a fellow concertgoer to that crap is, "Great, then you won't mind refunding half my money for not giving me what I wanted."

* It's a fine line the performer walks, combining the new with the old, the familiar with the obscure or less understood. I'll sometimes experiment, like I did on this tour, with rearranging some of my best-known work so it can be fresh and surprising but still recognizable in a way that's fun.

* I believe an artist should go onstage to give a bit of himself or herself to people who've decided to gamble and trust the performer. You can't be selfish and offer image over substance. I learned this lesson in public and in private over the course of many years, while thinking that other things were important and finding out the hard way that they weren't.

 * So now when I play music on concert tours, I play it for others. Which reminds me of another thing Tennessee Williams once said: "Hell is yourself. When you ignore people completely, that is hell."

* I think I know what Williams was getting at. Sometimes, when circumstances demand it, you've gotta forget the heat around you in order to generate some of your own.
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« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2011, 10:39:54 pm »

Great read! I really enjoyed this.

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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2011, 08:14:04 am »

Kudos to you for always posting interesting stuff like this and giving your fellow fans something to read and think about!

Keep up the good work!

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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2011, 11:56:45 am »

Very insightful article, thanks for taking the time to post it.
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