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Australian Associated Press Mellencamp Interview
07.29.2008 -

John Mellencamp still rocks after three decades at the top
July 29, 2008 01:40pm

WITH a career spanning more than three decades, John Mellencamp could be forgiven for resting on his laurels.

But the 56-year-old American rocker says he doesn't like to dwell on the past. He's more interested in the future.

Mellencamp's 23rd album, Life, Death Love and Freedom, was released early in July and reached the number one position on the Australian country charts.

The singer of such hit songs as Jack and Diane, and ROCK in the USA, says no-one is more surprised than him that he's still rocking out and topping charts.

He said: "When I was a kid, and I started making records in 1976, the guys my age - I'm (like) Frank Sinatra, I'm Sammy Davis Jr, you know."

The artist who started out his career as Johnny Cougar on the insistence of his record label (before changing to John Cougar Mellencamp, and finally reverting to his birth name John Mellencamp in 1991) is now an elder statesman of US heartland rock.

These days he is somewhat dismissive of some of the songs that made his name in the early days, such as I Need A Lover and Hurts So Good, calling them "stupid pop songs".

Mellencamp considers his latest album as his most thoughtful record to date, and the "modern electric folk songs" on it cover themes such as economic struggles, security threats, religious doubts and social injustice.

In March this year Mellencamp was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by good friend Billy Joel, who urged the singer: "Don't let this club membership change you. Stay 'ornery, stay mean. We need you to be pissed off and restless."

Mellencamp says the experience was "great" but refuses to get too caught up in the hype.

"For me it was just a thing that happened," he says in his typical straightforward manner.

"I was surprised that it happened and it was a great thing.

"It really hasn't changed my life too much. I'm always looking forward, I never look back."

It is telling that the part of the event he fondly recalls is that of his 13-year-old son Speck, who joined him on stage to play guitar.

"At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I didn't tell him he was going to play until the day of the thing, and I said, 'Hey Speck, you're playing tonight', and he said, 'Dad I'm not going to play tonight'," Mellencamp says.

"I said, 'Yeah you're playing, when are you going to have the opportunity to play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?'.

"So he had to borrow a guitar from my guitar player, but it just so happened that the owner of Gibson was there and he heard Speck trying to borrow a guitar.

"He walked up to him and he said, 'If you play this 1960 Gibson Les Paul, I'll give it to you'.

"So Speck goes, 'Ok, I'll do it' and he walks out with this great looking guitar. I said, 'Where did you get that?' and he says, 'The guy from Gibson said he'd give it to me if I played it on TV tonight'.

"I said, 'You know, I don't think I want you to play Speck'. He said, 'Dad, I'm playing'."

Speck, who looks every bit the rock star in the making with his mop of blond curls, now regularly joins his father onstage to play guitar on the classic Authority Song.

But Mellencamp says his teenage son is not committed to following in his footsteps just yet.

"I don't know that he'll go into it (the music industry)," the father of five says. "He's just a beginning guitar player and he likes doing it.

"If I can give him a thrill to come out (onstage) and do that, he likes it and he can play that song pretty good."

Australia may get the chance to see father and son in action in November when Mellencamp will embark on his first tour down under in 15 years, supported by Sheryl Crowe and Shane Nicholson.
He is keen to play his new material, but he also promises to include some old favourites.

"I try to be respectful to the audience and play songs that they know," he told the Seven Network.

"Some of those 'stupid pop songs' will be played," he laughs
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