East Portland Blog: John Mellencamp Evolves Into Modern Populist Hero

By Eduard P. Gomez - East Portland Blog

Troubled Land – John Mellencamp Evolves Into Modern Populist Hero, By Eduard P. Gomez
By admin, on March 10th, 2012

“I put out a song about the way things are called ‘Troubled Land’ to give folks the news like Woody Guthrie used to do with his music,” John Mellencamp said in a statement on a political blog.

Woody Guthrie? Really? Ironically, that’s the sense I felt about this song when I first heard it. “Troubled Land” reminded me of a sort of “This Land Is Your Land” updated for the 21st century. The song conveys a singularly bleak worldview, as Mellencamp considers the definite lack of freedom afforded by the current political climate. Also, the subject matter goes beyond any implied anti-war message of the song’s “bring peace to this troubled land” tag line.

Musically “Troubled Land” harkens back to “Crumblin’ Down” with its swampy groove and sings of bringing peace while warning of the hurricane on the horizon. The accompanying video juxtaposes scenes of Mellencamp singing the song self-accompanied with acoustic guitar are stark shots of a tattered American flag, military graveyard, burning paper money, a gas pump with swiftly increasing gallon pricing, a man twirling a foreclosure sign, an anti-war demonstration, and finally, a naked baby crawling across Old Glory as to suggest a kind of rebirth and renewed idealism.

Very few artists like Mellencamp can pull off this kind of melancholy—it’s certainly more fitting with his artistic persona than writing jingles to sell Chevy trucks—and that his world-weariness feels legitimately earned rather than affected keeps “Troubled Land” from being just an exercise in pessimism. Sometimes I have trouble reconciling my small town upbringing with my Liberal ethos, but I see the past, present, and future the way he does, and that gives me an odd sense of kinship with him. John Mellencamp continues his ongoing evolution into something of a modern populist folk hero.