Mellencamp to perform at UMB Pavilion
June 22, 2005 - John Mellencamp paused during a recent interview to make light of an article he had read recently about himself.
"I had to laugh," Mellencamp said. "It said: 'How does a guy who started out as Justin Timberlake turn into a guy in the vein of Bob Dylan?'"
Mellencamp, 53, didn't seem so surprised that he'd get compared to a former member of the teen pop group N'Sync (Timberlake) as much as he'd be reading that sort of comparison at all at this point in his life.
"Who would have ever thought in 1976, when my first record came out as Johnny Cougar that (today) I would still be able to go out and play arenas, still be able to go out and sell tickets, still being able hear songs of mine on the radio," he said. "I've just been very, very fortunate."
Mellencamp has a good point. That first album "Chestnut Street Incident," offered no reason to think that he had the talent or originality to last even a decade, much less nearly 30 years.
Even when his third album, "American Fool," became a chart-busting hit in 1982 behind the singles "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane," Mellencamp seemed more likely to be a good-time roots rocker who would have a few hits and fade away than someone who one day would inspire comparisons to the great Dylan.
But his next CD, "Uh-Huh," hinted at more of a deep-thinking songwriter with its hit single "Pink Houses" — a poignant portrait of Midwestern life.
Then came the 1985 CD "Scarecrow," which with its title song delivered a strong message of strife on the family farm.
Suddenly Mellencamp was the good-time rocker who also had something important to say and the lyrical chops to deliver his message in a powerful and poetic way. He freely acknowledges that he wasn't the most ambitious songwriter on the early albums.
"When I first started out, particularly you know, with me writing songs like 'I Need a Lover' and 'Hurts So Good,' I was really a big kid," he said. "I had been in rock bands my entire life. I had a black leather jacket, an earring and a motorcycle. I was more or less selling and living a lifestyle, a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. That's what we were about. The actual music was only something we had to do to get back to the lifestyle."
"Uh-huh" may have hinted at the more substantial music to come with "Pink Houses." But even then, fun still was the first order of business.
"Being in the John Cougar Mellencamp band up until 1985 was like being in a fraternity, how much beer you could drink, how many girls you could corral, how many arrogant fistfights you could get into, that's what we were about," he said.
The change from the fun-and-games outlook came abruptly with "Scarecrow."
"It was like somebody turned off the switch," Mellencamp said. "We looked at each other and we'd all been divorced and we'd all wasted a lot of time doing that. It just took us a long time to grow up."
The focus on music showed, as "Scare-crow," the 1987 CD "The Lonesome Jubi-lee" and 1989's "Big Daddy" found Mel-lencamp reaching an artistic peak while maintaining his popularity.
The 1990s, though, saw his commercial fortunes slip, and after stints on Mercury Records and Columbia Records, Mellen-camp now is unsigned. He's also discouraged by the state of radio and the priorities of the major record companies, and at one point he said he's not sure he'll ever make another studio album again.
"Right now there is no point in me running out to spend a year of my life going in the studio killing myself to make a record until I have a reason to make a record," he said.
Mellencamp, however, is anything but idle when it comes to creating music. In fact, he has been collaborating with author Stephen King — yes, the man of a million horror stories — on a musical, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," they hope to take to Broadway next year.
"The other day in New York when we had the read-through was the most exciting thing that had happened to me since somebody called me up when I was a kid and said I had a No. 1 album," said Mellen-camp, who so far has written about 15 songs for the production.
Before he turns his attention to the musical, though, Mellencamp will spend the next three months on tour.
Mellencamp is doing a career-spanning show, drawing most of his material from "Words and Music," his recent two-disc best-of CD. Mellencamp and his band have created new arrangements for a number of the songs in the set.
"You know you can rearrange a song a zillion different ways, so I would feel funny not bringing the songs up to where we are musically now," he said.
John Mellencamp plays Tuesday, June 28, at the UMB Bank Pavilion, Interstate 270 and Earth City Expressway. Reserved seats for the 7 p.m. show cost $75, $55 and $35 and lawn tickets are $20. John Fogerty opens the show.