A Year-End Conversation with John

It’s been a busy year for John, what with touring and numerous album projects in various stages of completion. But he did take some time out last week to give Mellencamp.com a few updates on current projects along with comments on recent news making activities:

The Kennedy Center Honors - “I was very proud and humbled to have been able to play ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ in a different fashion--that I think was true to the feelings that Bruce had when he wrote it,” John said, regarding his slowed-down version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” that was part of the musical tribute to Springsteen at the recent Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.

As Andy York related last week, John’s version did in fact offer more of a folk-blues take on the essential protest song nature of Springsteen’s lyric—which has been almost totally overlooked if not misunderstood due to the nature of the anthemic chorus. Stripping it down to its roots, John was thereby able to focus on the verses, which depict the dead-end life of a Vietnam war veteran in a manner that in reality is anything but patriotic.

“I’m very proud of Bruce,” John added. “As just some kid in New Jersey making records, I bet he never imagined in his wildest dreams that he’d someday be honored in this fashion. I’m glad to have been there to acknowledge the influence he’s had on all of us.”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Box Set - John said that his four-CD box set “On the Rural Route 7609,” which was intended for release this year, is now being sequenced for release by next Fathers Day.

“It’s actually 11 years late!” John jokingly acknowledged, then explained what is already well known: “I don’t particularly like digging around in my past and find little enjoyment in doing so.”

But he reiterated that he has painstakingly focused on album material that he feels has been overlooked because of the huge pop hits that were released alongside them. So he has arranged the discs as if they were four new and distinct albums, rather than in the chronological order of most box set career retrospectives.

“If you didn’t get deeper into the original albums and know these songs, it will be like discovering new material,” John said. As previously noted, the set will include unreleased live and acoustic versions of Mellencamp classics, as well as two particularly innovative tracks from two non-music icons: race relations expert Dr. Cornel West, who has dramatically recited the lyrics to "Jim Crow," and Academy Award-winning actress Joanne Woodward, who gave an emotionally charged reading of the lyrics to "The Real Life."

The liner notes, incidentally, are by veteran rock critic Anthony DeCurtis, and according to John, are greatly detailed. Until only a few weeks ago, John added, “I didn’t even realize I was old enough to put out a box set!”

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Next Album - John’s forthcoming studio album, “No Better Than This,” remains on schedule for release next Fall. Kurt Markus’s documentary on the making of the album--which took place last summer at the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., Sun Studio in Memphis and the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio--is still in production, and will also include footage from the The Bob Dylan Show with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson tour.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Touring Plans - John said there is preliminary talk about touring again with Dylan, but whether or not that pans out, he is planning “a show unlike anything you’ve ever seen” before from him—to involve different musicians in various groupings.

The tour, he added, would visit major theaters and take on a “variety show” character rather than the traditional rock concert. But it’s likely that John will go out in some sort of tour format in May through June, than go back out again in October.

Last summer's tour with Dylan and Nelson, incidentally, has been nominated by the Pollstar concert industry trade publication in the Most Creative Tour Package category of this year’s Pollstar Concert Industry Awards.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Neil Young’s MusiCares Gala - John said he’s going over his Farm Aid partner Neil Young’s extensive song catalog in preparation for his performance at the MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Young in Los Angeles on Jan. 29.

“I’m looking forward to doing it and I’m very honored to have been asked,” said John, adding that he hopes to find a suitable song from Young’s classic “After the Gold Rush” album era.

-- jim bessman