October 15, 2008

John Mellencamp on nationalism, the state of the nation and McCain's use of his music

Featured in yesterday’s LA Times.  Read full article here.

He thinks Barack Obama is too conservative, and every time John McCain plays his songs at a rally, the Republican nominee gets a call from a Mellencamp rep: Play the music if you want, but you better know what the lyrics mean.

According to Mellencamp, the words mean this: The government is corrupt, the war is unjust, the middle class is sunk, people are starving, racism is rampant, and those little pink houses? Couldn’t we do better for the working poor?

And if pols still don’t get it, Mellencamp’s wish for America is spelled out in his anthem-like “Our Country”: “That poverty could be just another ugly thing / And bigotry would be seen only as obscene / And the ones that run this land help the poor and common man / This is our country.”

The message seems to have gotten through; McCain has all but stopped playing Mellencamp’s songs, except for a few instances when the sound-booth guy accidentally cues the wrong track…

“I grew up in the late ’60s, early ’70s, during Vietnam, and so my liberal views were pretty much cast during that time period through the music that I was listening to,” he said. (His parents were also liberals, who encouraged him to speak his mind.) He has a single coming out this month: “Troubled Land.” It was officially unveiled during Mellencamp’s set at the Farm Aid concert last month. In the wake of the Wall Street woes, the song was eerily foreboding. It also underlines how Mellencamp secured his reputation as the heartland bard: “I’ve got many screaming children / Ten million rows to hoe / Bring peace to this troubled land / Deader than a hammer/ But I can’t let go / Bring peace to this troubled land.”

Mellencamp explains the song this way: “I have felt that the government has betrayed most people in turning their back on the working class.” He said, “Deregulation has destroyed so many things that worked so well, destroyed the airlines, destroyed trucking, destroyed, as we see now, Wall Street. . . .

“We’ve got to have guidelines, and strict guidelines, that are enforced by the government. That’s the government’s job. Now, their idea of making law is ‘We’re allowed to tap your phone, we’re allowed to enter your house without a search and seizure.’ That’s wrong.”

Mellencamp was one of the first musicians to oppose the war in Iraq, a position that made him unpopular in his hometown. Neighbors would row up alongside his lakefront house and shake their fists. Mellencamp’s wife was heckled in the grocery store.

The singer stayed firm in his beliefs.

“If you just step back and take all the particulars: We’re going to invade a country on the other side of the world, and we’re going to kill people and we’re going to have our people killed, and our information is tainted?” he said.

He blames the strong nationalism that clenched the country after Sept. 11.

“When people are for the country right or wrong, America right or wrong, it’s a lot like Germany. Nationalism is a bad thing. And when you have a mob mentality over a country, over a swastika, over the Führer, over the Iraq war, the outcome is not going to be good.”