John Speaks About His New Release Plain Spoken- Interview - By Chuck Arnold

By Chuck Arnold - It's no surprise John Mellencamp -- who is known for his candor -- called his new album, released Sept. 23 on Republic, Plain Spoken. The rock'n'roots legend, who turns 63 on Oct. 7, continues to be an open book on everything from his new lifetime recording contract to an invaluable lesson he learned from James Brown.

Plain Spoken's "Blue Charlotte" deals with mortality. Is that something you think about more now that you're in your 60s?

I've always thought about it. I think most people do. I've got teenage boys who talk to me about it; I've got girls in their 30s who talk about it. It's in the back of people's minds that "Hey, I’m not going to be here forever." .

Do you feel you've handled getting older gracefully?

A person my age has got to behave their age or else they just look silly. Trying to recapture what I was at 32 is a ridiculous notion. I learned this a long time ago from James Brown. I saw him play when I was 14, and he was a motherf---er. Then I saw him 30 years later and he was trying to be that guy, but he just wasn't that guy anymore. He tried to do the splits and he couldn't even get up. It registered with me that if my career goes on that long, I can't be like that. .

Plain Spoken lives up to that title in many ways, including its stripped-down sound. How did the recording process go?

There weren't many takes done, but there were hours and hours of rehearsal to make it sound that simple. We recorded the record at my studio and then mixed it at [executive producer T Bone Burnett's] studio, so he was able to come in and make comments. .

Do you ever wish you could go back and change any of your classic hits?

If I could rewrite "Pink Houses," I would definitely change that last line ["'Cause the simple man baby pays the thrills/The bills, the pills that kill"]. But it's too late. I was young when I wrote that. (Laughs.)

Meg Ryan shot the photo of you on the cover of Plain Spoken. Is that weird for you now that you guys have broken up?

I don't really talk about that stuff. I don't know -- Meg and I never really break up. We were in Greece visiting my son when she took that photo on an iPhone.

You signed a lifetime recording contract with Republic Records this year. How did that come together?

Monte Lipman [chairman/CEO of Republic Records] and Bruce Resnikoff [president of Universal Music Enterprises] -- these guys made a deal that I couldn't refuse: "John, for the rest of your life, make records whenever you want, make them however you want, and we'll put them out." .

Looking back on your Johnny Cougar days, do you still notice some of that guy in you?

I'm still angry. That kid was angry -- and I'm going to be an angry old man.