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When I Go Deaf - I Live For Music Blog: Radio City Music Show Review
02.27.2011 - When I Go Deaf: I Live for Live Music Blog

A trip to the great Radio City Music Hall, a palace of authentic Art Deco delights, is always welcome in my book. (RCMH, along with the Town Hall, are the two best medium-sized performance venues in NYC.) And when my good friend Lee offered me a ticket to see John Mellencamp, I approached this as an opportunity to “hang out” at RCMH—to take in the visual splendor of the historic building, and to indulge in some people watching (of people rattling their jewelry, as John Lennon once quipped)—and the music was an afterthought: “Cool, John Mellencamp. At Radio City? I’m in…”

But, boy, was I wrong in my approach. John Mellencamp and his ensemble of six musicians put on an incredible show, displaying formidable musicianship and taste, seamlessly blending new, unfamiliar songs with the unforgettable anthems from his glory days. (Mellencamp’s very best songs are undeniably impressed upon our collective memory as pure, thrilling, and emotionally gratifying “hits”.) I knew all the hits; before this show, I didn’t know that I knew all his hits.

From our nose-bleed seats in the upper reaches of the great luxurious Hall, I was able to reflect on the music while indulging in sing-along choruses at every opportunity. Having grown up in the 80s, Mellencamp was that ubiquitous, slighly uncool mainstream rocker who was always on the radio, heck, even on MTV. It was easy to overlook his successes… he wasn’t as cool as (fill in the blanks)… But “cool” is more than being “in” with the cool kids; being cool is just that: being comfortable within yourself.

While I’ve never embraced or explored his music fully, in retrospect, Mellencamp’s music is simply great, and his aesthetic represents what can be great about American mainstream music. Mellencamp’s career contains a wealth of eminently catchy songs that tell stories of things he knows best, of the people he’s met (real folks from the country), and wrestling with the idealism and pessimism that we all face from time to time. Songs of sin and redemption; the dreams of youth; outpourings of a restless wanderer who probably smokes too many cigarettes. Moreover, anyone who listened to mainstream radio in the 80s knows his songs.

In many ways, more than the much more heralded and decorated Bruce Springsteen, it is John Mellencamp who is the best representative of that eternal dream that young men and women from everywhere and nowhere have: the desire to be somebody through rock and roll. (And folks, Bloomington, Indiana is nowhere and everywhere.) For those who seek nothing but this pure rock and roll dream, neither fame, riches or adulation will suffice in comparison to this hunger for joyful expression that one finds over a solid backbeat.

There is only one Buddy Holly, the legend of the geeky kid from nowhere who changed the musical landscape. But John Mellencamp—damn—I’d say that he’s carrying on that tradition now if not as a legend then as a working class hero—and he puts on a heck of a show.

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