UK's The Word Magazine: John Mellencamp On Music, Movies, And Books

John Mellencamp
Indiana’s finest singer; songwriter; artist and, occasionally, actor

MUSIC: My parents were only 20 years older than me and they were pretty active, so I heard Woody Guthrie, I heard Odetta, but at the same time I heard Julie London. My dad used to have bongo parties; they’d put on a record and bongo along to jazz records – rock music hadn’t really materialized in 1951. I love Dylan too, of course. I don’t prefer acoustic Bob or electric Bob; I prefer Bob of any kind and that includes his new records. There are very few people I admire in this world and he’s one. Highway 61 Revisited is the best record ever made. Dylan heard The Animals’ version of House Of The Rising Sun, which Bob had been playing himself. And he said, “Look what you can do to folk song.” That’s when he got Al Kooper and all those guys together and decided to make rock songs out of folk songs – it’s never been done so well since.

DVD: Paul Newman is someone I truly admire. If I had to pick a favourite of his it would be Hud, Cool Hand Luke or The Long, Hot Summer. In the last one Newman plays a guy called Ben Quick – if you cross him, he burns down your barn and your animals in it. I discovered Newman when I was 14 grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people and one summer me and some other guys stumbled into the cinema one Monday night, just to get out of the house. Cool Hand Luke was on, and it was so good we went every night for the next ten nights, until it closed. Newman plays an antihero who bucks the establishment but understands the importance of trying to work within it, though ultimately he was unable to. The real moral of the story is that you’ve got to live in a fashion where the world suits you, rather than you suiting the world.

BOOKS: I have dyslexia. I once made a movie with Larry McMurtry [who scripted Hud and Brokeback Mountain, among others] and he was staying at my house and he said, “Have you read Horseman Pass By? Have you read All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers?” So I told him I don’t read, and every night after dinner he sat and told me the story of one of his books. How incredible is that! And right now I’m doing a musical with Steven King, who’s just the most creative guy I’ve ever met. We’ll be in the theatre and something won’t be working and he’ll just write four pages while the rest of us are bitching about it. I’ve been around two of the best American s authors, but I’m too slow a reader to read books myself.