Friday, July 19, 2013

"They like to get you in a compromising position"

Earlier this month, writing for the American Conservative, David Masciotra did a piece on the music of John Mellencamp. Mellencamp began his career as John Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp, before settling on using his real name- John Mellencamp. He is from southern Indiana- the town of Seymour to be exact. It's true that Mellencamp identifies as an ardent uber liberal, one with a populist bent. But I think the article, "Rock for Republicans? How the GOP misunderstands John Mellencamp’s heartland ethic," does a pretty good job of fleshing out some of the more salient themes found in his music. I remember learning that before he became a rock star, Mellencamp worked for the phone company and also that he was once a welfare recipient. When he started making good money he paid back all the money he received while he was on welfare. Even though he has strongly expressed his views as social liberal, in many ways Mellencamp stands for the kind of ideas that the Democratic party used to stand for, that is, for the little man. Sadly, that brand of American politics is dead and may well be be buried.

Here's the extract I found most interesting in Masciotra's piece:
Mellencamp was raised in the Nazarene Church and left when he was 16 because, as he tells it, “They said, ‘no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, and girls can’t wear make up.’ And I said, ‘That doesn’t sound like much fun’.”

He might have left the church of his childhood, but he never fully left the faith. The image and name of Jesus hovers over Mellencamp’s music. He often performs on stage with a white porcelain statue of Jesus in front of his amplifier. A painting of Jesus hangs over a jukebox on the album jacket for his best record, “The Lonesome Jubilee,” and he invokes Christ’s teachings in many of his songs, from some of his biggest hits to some of his most obscure album cuts. On “Jack and Diane,” his only number one single, he combines both of his belief systems into a visceral prayer: “So let it rock / Let it roll / Let the Bible Belt come and save my soul…”
I can say in all honesty that Melllencamp's music has always been a hit with me. I remember listening both to The Lonesome Jubilee and Scarecrow over and over again when they came out. I still know the words to all the songs on those albums, which date to back when records, that is, albums had some thematic content and a coherence all their own. But the song that has meant to the most to me over the years is his "The Authority Song." Hence, it is our traditio for this July Friday- the performance is from his Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction, which happened on 10 March 2008:

...They like to get you there and smile in your face/They think they're so cute when they got you in that condition/Well I think it's a total disgrace

It's like Camus' The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt turned into an American rock song. It was in that essay that Camus wrote, 'Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being."

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