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Time.com Interview
09.18.2014 - Time.com - By Melissa Locker

The legendary singer-songwriter chatted with TIME about Plain Spoken, The Bachelor and why rock has been dead for a long time

John Mellencamp will release his 22nd full-length album, Plain Spoken, on September 23. After a four-year hiatus, Mellancamp has marked his return with an elegant and soul-searching album that finds him questioning life, authority and his beliefs. Now, TIME is pleased to premiere the video for the albumís lead single ďTroubled Man,Ē an acoustic-guitar driven charmer.



In an interview, the singer-songwriter opened up about Plain Spoken, Gene Simmons, Farm Aid and The Bachelor:

TIME: Your new album seems very mature in that it tackles a lot of issues. Like thereís ĎTroubled Man,í which just on its title alone indicates darkness. Have you been working through a lot?


John Mellencamp: Itís not really darkness. My guess is that you were a literature major somewhere. If you read Steinbeck, you read Tennessee Williams, you read Faulkner, you read any of those type of people ó even Shakespeare ó itís all about human comedy. The catastrophe of life. Thatís what I write about.

On ĎSometimes Thereís God,í it seems like youíre struggling with religion, too.

No, no, no.

No? What is the song about?  

Well, sometimes thereís God. In other words, if you look at the first verse, the first line, sometimes thereís God in someone elseís eyes, meaning that you can find yourself and find peace of mind, which is what religion is supposed to provide, in many different places. And sometimes, that song says, you just canít. Sometimes in a humanís life you just canít find peace of mind. Canít do it. Iím sure that youíve experienced that yourself. Itís like, where do I put myself? How did I get here? What am I doing? Those moments. Sometimes it feels like thereís no God. I mean, if you just had a baby and it was autistic, you might say, if you believed in God, ĎWhy?í Just sometimes thereís God, and sometimes thereís not. Iím not struggling with if thereís God or not. I have my beliefs. Iím 62 years old, Iíve thought about it, and Iíve come to conclusions. They may not be right, but itís how I feel.

On ďLawless Times,Ē it sounds like youíre tackling a different sort of issue. Can you tell me about that song?

ďLawless TimesĒ is a nod and a wink to how our society has changed. That song originally was, I think, 300 verses long. I had to edit it down. There are a lot of lighthearted pokes at the Catholic Church, because of all the child molestation.

It also talks about people tapping cell phones and digital music theft.

Donít get me started on digital music, because I said a lot of years ago and caught a lot of crap about it that the Internet is the most dangerous invention since the atomic bomb. And people went, ĎOh, yeah,í and I got all this pushback, but the fact of the matter is, itís true. I mean, we have no privacy for starters, and not to mention, we could as a country wage all kinds of warfare against some other country over the Internet, and shut down their electrical grid and vice versa. Shut down the banking systems. Thereís a lot of trouble that could be caused with that fóing Internet that most people use to send naked pictures of themselves, or maybe a certain higher-education person might do research on. But basically itís for people to fó off on.

Are you sort of a Luddite?

I donít really use the Internet. Iím one of the people that might research online. Makes it quicker than going to the library, sorry to say. But I donít shop online.

Do you have a cell phone?

Yeah. I only knew two guys who didnít have a cell phone: me and Bob Dylan. Bob still doesnít have one, and I had to get one when I got divorced because my wife had one, but I got divorced about four years ago, so I had to get a cell phone because I have kids. If I didnít have kids, I wouldnít have a cell phone.

Youíd just wait for people to call you on your landline?

I donít want anybody calling me anyway. So you donít have to worry about calling me. Donít bother!

Being an artist as well as a musician, you must really value your alone time, though.

Yes, I do take great delight in my own company.

Can you create when there are other people around, or do you need complete isolation?

I need pretty much complete isolation just to exist. Just to be alive, to live. I prefer not to be around a lot of people. I donít know that that has much to do with being an artist, but thatís just the way I prefer to live and thatís why I live where I live. I live on 86 acres in the middle of nowhere, and I get to a town if I need supplies.

Youíre about to head out on a massive tour. Are tours hellish for you?

They can be, like any other job. Part of playing live is that I think that an artist whoís interested in what theyíre going to create next, and having to go out and play songs that you wrote 25 years ago can get to be tedious a job, but the audience generally softens the flow of that type of work.

Youíve been doing this for almost 40 years now. Are you surprised by the longevity of your career?

Oh, I think that everybody is. I mean nobody really in 1974 or 75 nobody really anticipated this being a lifelong career thing. What music is today is so far from what it was when I started. I mean, it couldnít be any further away. Music was a youth-driven thing, for rebellious youth to express themselves, and the whole hippie thing was happening, and we were going to change the world. Itís all about that. And of course now itís all tore up, but I canít help what they made it. I canít help it. Because other people make it bad, that doesnít mean that I can change the world. I canít. Iím just a guy with a guitar.

But youíve also never shied away from taking political stances in your music or onstage. Do you feel like up-and-coming rock stars and pop stars these days are apolitical?

Well, I donít know about them. I canít speak for them. I donít know what they think. I think Taylor Swift is cute. Other than that, I donít know anything about her.

Is it disappointing that this younger generation isnít willing to take a stand about stuff?

There are a lot of reasons for that, and I donít blame them at all. When I was a kid, there was something called the Vietnam War and the draft. It motivated a lot of young people to get involved in politics. Iím sure that if there was a draft today and young people were faced with the idea of going to Syria or Afghanistan, they would have a louder voice. They would think, ĎOh, sĖt. What am I getting drafted for? To go do what?í So when the draft was eliminated, which we were all happy about at the time, it took young people out of the mix, which was really good for the old people who run the world, because the young people were fóing them up. Politicians today donít have to worry about it, because young people wonít even talk about it, because they donít give a sĖt. They donít care, because theyíre not involved. Iíll tell you what: you want young people to talk about politics, reinstate the draft.

Speaking of political issues, you founded Farm Aid. Do you think the plight of the farmer is kind of overlooked in this day and age?

Itís so complicated. Itís not a generic, sweeping statement. If you just look at what the government have passed as food for children ó your children, my children, in school ó itís not really to do with their health, is it? Itís really to do with the dairy farmers. It has to do with the people who grow crops, Big Corn. A lot of decisions being made about money and not the well-being of people. So Farm Aid is about so many things. The very first year we did it, it was just about trying to keep the small farmer on the land, and itís a never-ending problem. They pass all these farm bills, but theyíre not really to help the small farmer ó theyíre all to help corporate farming. I mean, we all know we shouldnít drink dairy, right? What do they serve in school to drink? Dairy. Think thatís an accident? Or they serve soft drinks. You think thatís an accident? No! Thereís fĖing tons of money being made here, and itís not for the well being of the children.

This is going to sound silly, but hear me out: The Bachelor, the TV show, just cast a farmer as its star.

I donít know about The Bachelor. Iíve never watched it.

Do you think drawing attention to the fact that people still run family farms in America is a good reminder?

I donít think it could hurt. But anytime you take a subject like that and you make it fodder for a television show, how serious are people going to take it? We have serious issues in this problem and to make it light entertainment, it just hits me sideways.

This is your first album under a lifetime contract with Republic Records. What made you want to sign a lifetime contract?

Well, about 10 to 12 years ago, Iíd had a record contract for 30-something years, and I really didnít like it. I donít work for anybody. I donít like working for anybody ó Iíve never been employed by anybody ó and the idea of having to release records on a time schedule, which I had done for 20-something years. So I got out of my record deal, and I didnít want a record deal. I thought I would just be a free agent, and every time I wanted to make a record Iíd just go someplace assigned to make one record. But after 10 to 12 years, it became very tedious, so we decided that I like the guy who runs Republic and we made a deal that I donít have to release records on any time schedule. I just do what I want. Itís a special deal.

Your musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is also hitting the road again. How many times have you seen it?

Iíve seen it enough to know it still needs work ó itís been 15 years ó but Steve [Stephen King] and I are closing in on it.

Itís still a work in progress?

Everything is, honey. Art is never done: itís only abandoned.

How do you know when an album is done?

You abandon it. Yes, always abandon. Itís never done.

Is that the same with your paintings?

Sure. I have paintings that Iím still painting on that are 20 years old. Iíll have a painting, because I never throw anything away, never. I have jeans older than you. I have boots older than you.

As a musician and an artist, when inspiration strikes you, is it geared towards being represented visually versus musically?

Iím sure youíve heard this many times, and I know it sounds phony people who donít do it, but when youíre a songwriter or youíre a painter, itís not even so much inspiration as what I call channeling. And sometimes when I write songs, the ideas come so fast that my hand doesnít move quick enough to keep up with it. My mind is open to this idea. I donít go, ĎYou know Iím going to write a really nice song for Melissa.í I donít do that. The song is just sent to me, and I write them down. If theyíre about ĎSometimes Itís God,í if theyíre about the ĎIsolation of Mister,í I write them down. Paintingís the same way. Itís always surprising to me. I never know what the fĖk Iím talking about. I donít know what the songs are about. I donít know how the paintingís going to end up. I donít know when Iím going to quit on the painting.

Now, some people get to channel good stuff, some people not so good, and some people who are songwriters donít even know this, and they write these songs that I donít know what the fĖk theyíre talking about. I donít know why they would even write them, but they do. And they play them on the radio! [laughs]

Gene Simmons recently said, ĎRock is dead.í Do you buy that?

Oh, yeah. Itís been dead for years. Itís dead. Itís over. Rock has been dead since probably the early Ď90s. Itís over. What an insightful guy Gene Simmons is to realize that, in 2014, rock is dead. Gene, itís been dead for fóing 25 years!

Why do you think itís dead?

I donít think itís dead; I know itís dead.

Well, how do you know itís dead?

The reason rock is dead is because the foundation is no longer there. Itís about money, itís about needing another country singer on the ticket. The foundation of rock music was rebellion against the establishment. How in the fóing hell can a 62-year-old man be writing songsÖThatís why my records sound like they do. Theyíre age-appropriate. I donít even consider myself a rock singer. I consider myself a songwriter. You donít ever see me use the word rock and roll related to myself. Other people may. Rocker John Mellencamp. Itís like, what the fĖk are you talking about? Rocker John Mellencamp. Back in 1982, maybe. But not now. I mean, guys my age get on stage and try to act like theyíre rocking. Itís funny.

Gene Simmons is out there.

Yeah, and he looks like a dope.

And thereís people like Keith Richards.

Baby, those guys are out there trying to recapture something that they once had. Iím sure that if you ask Keith Richards, heíll tell you: ĎIím doing the best I can. This is the best I can do. Am I the Keith Richards on stage that I was in 1972? No. But am I as good a guitar player? Yes.í So you canít just make a big generalization and say theyíre out rocking. No, theyíre not. Keith Richards is nothing on stage like he was in 1969.

Are you still having fun?

Yeah. Not the kind of fun that one would think. Not the kind of fun that I once had, when I was a young guy in a black-leather jacket. But fun is relative and fun for me today is being able to create something and go, ĎI like that. Thatís good. Thatís good.í Fun for me is being able to go, ĎWow, my son in in Golden Gloves. Great.í My one son goes to RISD. I have a daughter who just had a baby. Thatís fun. That kind of stuff is fun. Fun is relevant. Do I go out and get drunk after the show? No. I havenít been drunk since 1971.


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Laughing...

Couldn't stop laughing, while reading the interview... the questions...I mean, seriously?! How about sending an older "reporter" next time.

Posted by joplin66 2014-09-22 18:50:58.

 
 

 

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