CMT Blog: How John Mellencamp Interprets Freedom of Speech

By: Craig Shelburne
During an interview with John Mellencamp a few weeks ago, our conversation turned to his early songwriting, which he deemed “terrible,” going on to say, “My first five albums are unlistenable.” When it’s mentioned that there’s no longer a chance to develop a career after a bad record, he replied that we aren’t going to have any more American heroes if we keep tearing people down on TV and online. I asked if he’s heard of the Low Information Diet, which is a way to manage your time without being so burdened by technology. He wasn’t familiar with the term, but heartily agreed with the concept. Then he launched into a long description about freedom of speech — specifically what it does and does not mean.

“I don’t have a cell phone. I mean, I can get on a computer and I can text people and e-mail people and I can look up stuff for information but I made the mistake once of reading blogs and I’m not doing that again,” he said. “I believe in freedom of speech but I also have the freedom to say, ‘You’re an idiot. You shouldn’t be writing things like that because you’re an idiot.’” He particularly condemns rude an unaccountable comments in blogs and YouTube videos.

“I don’t think people fought and gave their lives so that some guy can sit in his bedroom and be mean. I don’t think that’s what freedom of speech is,” he continued. “Freedom of speech is really about assembly — for us to collectively have an idea. We want to get our point of view out so we can assemble and I can appoint you to be the spokesman. That’s freedom of speech — to be able to collectively speak for a sector of people. But somehow it’s turned into ‘I can be an asshole whenever I feel like, say whatever I like, be disrespectful to people and not be courteous.’ It’s not good for our society. Not being courteous is not really freedom of speech. …

“When I was growing up in the 50s, to be a good neighbor, you minded your own business,” he said. “You were polite to other people. You were polite to their kids. You looked out for the kids. Now, none of those things mean anything. … I don’t think the founding fathers died so that you could call me or you or her anything you want to say about it. I think you have to be accountable for what you say and do. People just don’t believe that anymore — (and they think) ‘I can say whatever the f- I want.’”

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