ABC News: Oh Yeah, Life Goes On In Indiana

Singer John Mellencamp Shows 'GMA' Around Battleground Indiana

Posted by By KATE SNOW and COURTNEY CHAPMAN on Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes the best way to see a state is with a local. So when ABC News' 50 states in 50 days project rolled into Indiana, we called up favorite son, singer John Mellencamp.
John Mellencamp

We all know he was born in a small town (Seymour, Ind., to be exact), and while chart-topping songs have helped him realize the American dream, he hasn't left the heartland behind. He and his third wife, former supermodel Elaine Irwin, now call Bloomington, Ind., home.

He can be stopped driving around in his 1956 Chevy Nomad. He says there's an authenticity to these back roads that you don't find in the big city, even if he disagrees vehemently with most of his neighbors.

"I never did really want to fit in, " Mellencamp said. "I enjoy being the outsider. You know I'm a loud talker and always have been even before I had a guitar and record deals and hit records."

He calls himself a political outcast in his home state. But he has never been shy about voicing, or singing, his politics.

"If I was to vote my interest I'd be a Republican. I don't vote my interest. I vote for what I think would be the best and most compassionate for the country," said Mellencamp. "You know, America used to be a great place. It's not now, and we will be again, but right now it's not a great place."

Mellencamp's career has spanned 32 years and 23 albums. And while he still writes a lot about changing tradition, he no longer cares what other people say.

"I'm an old man. I'm long past worrying when I sit down to write a song what people are going to think of it."

The lyrics to one of Mellencamp's most memorable tunes, "Jack and Diane," were inspired by his experiences growing up in Seymour, Ind. And while the line "suckin on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freeze" lives on, the actual Tastee Freeze is long gone.

"I see small towns across America going out of business," he said. "The town I grew up in, there's no stores in there anymore. Corporate America moved in and put all those stores out of business. I don't like the fact that we're now all the same."

Three years after the success of "Jack and Diane," Mellencamp recorded "Scarecrow," an album that dealt with the problems facing small towns and small family farms. On the heels of its success, Farm Aid was formed.

"You know, since we started Farm Aid there has been 300,000 small farms going out of business. Over a million acres lost to urban sprawl," Mellencamp recalled. "That's not the kind of compassion you want to show the people who grow the food and support basically this country and the world."

Though he hasn't performed there in more than 20 years, the auditorium at Indiana University is still one of Mellencamp's favorite venues. It was there where he went from performing in bars to the big time.

"When I played here in 1984, we were rocking this place so hard the balcony almost fell down," he said.

He long ago lost his stage fright, and now he always gets excited about performing in front of an audience -- kind of how he feels about election night.

"I think that if a guy had any hope at all," he said, "I think better times are in front of us."

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