“I am not for everybody anymore,” John Mellencamp says. At one other level in our exceptional hour-long Zoom dialog, Mellencamp explains why. ” I do not wish to placate folks.”
Like his associates and heroes Neil Younger and Bob Dylan, in addition to nice artists corresponding to Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, Mellencamp is completely uncompromising and unyielding as an artist.
Take his new album (out this Friday, January 21), Strictly A One-Eyed Jack. It’s stark, gritty, uncooked, unflinching, elegiac, profound and brutally trustworthy. In two of the tracks, Mellencamp confronts the dishonesty of the world. In “I At all times Lie To Strangers,” Mellencamp writes from the perspective of somebody who admits their fixed deceit, Whereas “Lie To Me” is about how, as a society, we’re so used to being lied to we settle for that’s simply the best way it’s.
So Strictly A One-Eyed Jack is not on your common pop music fan in 2022. However for these keen to go on the darkish journey with Mellencamp the album is a masterpiece. It is among the defining works of a profession that has already earned him spots within the Rock And Roll Corridor Of Fame and Songwriters Corridor Of Fame.
The center three tune combo of “Did You Say Such A Factor,” “Gone So Quickly” and “Wasted Days,” (the primary and third of that trio characteristic Bruce Springsteen), is particularly highly effective, with the jazzy elegy of the mournful “Gone So Quickly” hitting as onerous emotionally as something Mellencamp has finished beforehand.
I spoke with Mellencamp about songwriting, his friendship with Springsteen, his fantasy poker quintet and why his largest affect is not a musician, however a legendary movie director.
Steve Baltin: It is a hell of an album in lots of respects. It is so considerate, and so deep. I used to be nearly taking a look at it as a guide.
John Mellencamp: That is the factor, I’m a dinosaur as you properly know, and other people do not actually make albums anymore. It is all in regards to the single, however I am old skool. And so I proceed to do what I’ve all the time finished, and that is attempt to make one thing that’s all tied collectively and it turns into one factor. I form of checked out it once I was placing it collectively as that is one man talking. So all of the songs are actually one man talking, versus there’s this tune and that tune, and this tune, and that tune. It is only one man speaking about his life, his future, his self.
Baltin: Who’s the One-Eyed Jack to you?
Mellencamp: That is my twenty-sixth album, twenty-seventh, I do not know. I have been very lucky, as you properly know. I have been very fortunate and beat a number of odds. I am fortunate as a result of I feel I am fortunate. However who’s the character? You’ll be able to’t write about your self on a regular basis. However I’ve grown to be observer and good listener, so I hear what different folks assume and what folks say. Then I am open to options, which implies that generally I will be doing one thing and a voice in my head will go, “Nicely, you higher write this down.” And I feel, “Ah, f**ok I am portray, I do not need to write this down.” And I am like, “You should write this down, John.” And that occurred fairly a bit with this file.
Baltin: What was the impetus for writing all from the voice of One-Eyed Jack? Was there one tune early on the place you realized that this character was the narrator for this album?
Mellencamp: Yeah, I noticed after a pair, three songs. it was the identical voice. It sounds foolish, and I am certain you’ve got heard it a thousand occasions, but it surely was the identical messenger delivering these songs to me. And I noticed that that is one man’s story. And I felt that it was necessary to guarantee that this man was represented correctly.
Baltin: What had been these first couple of songs the place you began to understand that this messenger was talking to you?
Mellencamp: The primary tune on the file is a tune known as “I At all times Lie To Strangers.” And I believed, “Nicely, I do not actually try this, however I assume possibly I do. And I assume possibly everyone does.” After which I did a little analysis. The common particular person hears 300 or 400 lies a day and can inform 150 himself and never even realize it. ‘Trigger you flip the information on, you get lies. You flip promoting on, you get lies. You discuss to folks, they misinform you. Even so simple as, “How are you doing right this moment?” “I am doing nice.” No, they don’t seem to be, however they are saying it anyway. So it was simply that straightforward of the thought that led to that tune.
Baltin: Had been there themes that emerged within the file that shocked you?
Mellencamp: Yeah. I am shocked quite a bit as a result of like I mentioned, a number of occasions, I did not even know what I used to be writing about. It was simply despatched to me, and what I’ve realized is which you can’t management the tune. Once I was a child, I used to attempt to management the tune. I might write a verse and I might go, “Oh, I can not go there.” However within the final 10 years, I let the songs go the place they wanna go, not the place I would like them to go. It is the identical with my work. I could begin out considering I’ll paint one thing, and I find yourself portray one thing just like what I believed I used to be gonna paint, however I ended up portray one thing completely totally different and that’s known as creativity. [chuckle] That is known as artwork. As a result of if I did a portray of you, you’d go “Ah f**ok, it do not appear to be me.” And I might go, “It is not purported to. I did not imply for it to appear to be you. It appears to be like just like the vibe that you simply give off although.”
Baltin: Are there older songs of yours then that you simply’re shocked if you return and revisit which you can return to and also you’re pleasantly shocked how they maintain up?
Mellencamp: Proper now they’re remixing an album I made known as Scarecrow in like ’85. And on the time, I did not assume a lot of it. I believed it was okay, and I had Rickie Lee Jones singing with me (“Between A Snort And A Tear”). However now that it has been remixed and you’ll hear the lyrics, I used to be shocked at that tune. I used to be shocked at a tune on that album known as “Minutes To Reminiscences,” which was a narrative a few younger man assembly an previous man on a greyhound bus, and what the previous man imparted to the younger man. I can not even keep in mind all of the songs that I’ve written, I actually cannot. Anyone will title a tune, and I might go, “Did I write that tune?” And so they’ll go “Yeah,” and I will go, “What album is that on?” It is all form of simply run collectively for me, however there have been information that I believed had been good that had been very ignored for the time, so it is common.
Baltin: Once you look again, can you step again and see why the information had been so profitable?
Mellencamp: No, I am not there but as a result of I’ve an enormous downside. Certainly one of my largest issues is that I do not wish to placate folks. And I am not gonna stroll out and go, “Hey, welcome to The Discussion board.” I am not gonna try this. By no means have. I simply do not try this. So it is onerous for me to know why that file was extra profitable than, say, I made a file known as Life, Demise, Love and Freedom. Which I believed was actually file, however no person else appeared to care.
Baltin: For some purpose the tune, “Between A Snort And A Tear” was that tune that I simply turned completely re-obsessed with.
Mellencamp: Wow, that is loopy. Wait till you hear it remixed. I used to be shocked. Oh, it is so a lot better. It is so a lot better, as a result of we did not know what the f**ok we had been doing after we made that file. However now within the studio we’re a lot better technicians than we was once, and you’ll really hear s**t [chuckle] You’ll be able to really hear Rickie singing. Earlier than you would form of hear her, however now you’ll be able to hear her and you’ll hear what I am saying. You’ll be able to hear what the vocalist is doing. You’ll be able to hear the guitar components, and it shocked me. I can not go backwards. They’re doing this for the file firm, and it is like, “Yeah, okay, in case you guys need to do it, you need to spend the cash, go forward.” However for me, I made that file a very long time in the past. So a pair guys in my band and my engineer are remixing it, they usually’d ship me copies of what they do every day, and I approve them. However I by no means return. I can not return and work on Scarecrow once more. I already did that file. I infrequently take heed to my very own information. After they’re finished, they’re finished. If I hear a tune on the radio, then I will take heed to that, however do I ever play my information? Very not often.
Baltin: Had been there moments sonically on right here that actually both stood out to you or shocked you? And even when you concentrate on bringing this album to the stage later in 2022, that you simply’re actually excited to see how they arrive out?
Mellencamp: I simply assume that the older you get, it is like something. How do you get good at one thing? You simply hold doing it. And most of the people give up too early, that is what I’ve discovered. Most individuals surrender too early. Are you aware what braveness is? Braveness is realizing you are beat earlier than you even begin, however you begin anyway, and also you see it to the top, it doesn’t matter what the consequence. And that’s braveness, and that is what we did on this file. That is simply the best way it labored out. I realized 10, 15 years in the past, you’ll be able to’t management artwork. True artwork is if you let the artwork go the place it desires to go.
Baltin: What made Bruce the precise particular person to work with on this file or the precise time?
Mellencamp: It was fairly by chance. For my complete profession I used to be all the time just like the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. And Bruce and I’ve identified one another for years. We met one another years in the past, however we simply knew one another sufficient to say hello. However we did a rainforest factor for Sting and we performed collectively. And unexpectedly he was like my massive brother, and he handled me like I used to be his sibling, and I handled him with respect. After which we turned actually good associates, and it simply form of occurred. He got here to Indiana, he stayed on the home. It was nice. And I discuss to Bruce on a regular basis now. I do know what he is doing proper now. He is aware of the place I am at. So it is good. It has been factor.
Baltin: Are there different artists that you simply admire for his or her evolution?
Mellencamp: I love Bob [Dylan]. And I love Bruce, and I love Woody Guthrie, and I love Nat King Cole. I love Louis Armstrong. We had been laughing, after we had been making this file, it was like, “John, your voice has modified a lot because you began.” And I mentioned, “Nicely, the cigarettes are beginning to repay.” And I used to be comfortable once I heard me sing “Gone So Quickly,” that I gave the impression of Louis Armstrong. It wasn’t something I attempted to do, it is simply that cigarettes take their f**king toll in your vocal chords. And so even you’ll be able to inform by simply speaking to me, that my voice is raspy, and that is all from smoking. Nothing that I needed to do. It by no means dawned on me that it might occur. However I am comfortable that I sound that means.
Baltin: Your voice undoubtedly matches this form of this tenor of the album, and that form of older knowledge and somebody who has expertise would say.
Mellencamp: Nicely, I grew up in public. I used to be 21 years previous once I made my first file. And I did not have a clue what I used to be doing. Not a clue. I used to be a ballroom singer, and the concept of writing a tune was like nearly laughable. “What, you need me to jot down songs? I am a singer.” So I needed to discover ways to write songs. And I wrote songs and I grew up in public. And at first I did not like that concept, however now, I am comfortable it occurred as a result of it gave me the chance to have the chip on my shoulder and to develop. And like I wrote a tune known as “Jack & Diane.” And I all the time detested that tune till the final couple, three years. I watched a soccer sport this previous weekend, and 80,000 folks had been singing that tune at half time. Are you able to think about? I believed, “S**t.” I mentioned, “How do all these f**king folks know this tune?”
Baltin: On the identical time, clearly, you are conscious of the affect these songs have had in widespread tradition, whether or not it is “Jack & Diane” or “Pink Homes.”
Mellencamp: However see, I do not, as a result of I am probably not a part of the membership. I dwell a really solitude life. I am alone quite a bit, every time I may be. I am alone on high of this mountain. So I do not actually take note of widespread tradition. Like I used to be speaking to Springsteen, and he requested me if I watched the Grammys. I mentioned, “No, I did not even know they had been occurring.” He goes, “Nicely, we received nothing to do with it.” [chuckle] I mentioned, “Nicely, I figured that out.” We received nothing to do with that. It means nothing to me at this level in my life.
Baltin: Are there moments in these songs then that you simply understand how prophetic they’ve turn into in your life as you’ve got gotten older?
Mellencamp: Yeah, that is true. Steve King and I labored on a musical collectively. I wrote a tune and it mentioned, “What you say about your self is who you might be.” And once I wrote it, I actually did not know what the f**ok that meant, however I do now. What you consider about your self is who you might be. Hear, you are speaking to the luckiest man that you simply’re ever going to speak to. I do not care what number of interviews you’ve got finished. I do not care who you’ve got talked to, you are speaking to the luckiest man on the planet. And luck is considering you are fortunate. And I’ve all the time thought that I used to be fortunate. I could not have had a number of expertise once I first began out. As a matter of truth, I hear songs of mine on the radio generally and I’m going, “Why did you even hassle to proceed? As a result of they’re simply so horrible.” However folks like them. I imply, I am referring to love “Hurts So Good.” It is like, “Why did anyone like that tune?” As a result of I wrote that tune in a bathe. I simply was singing within the bathe, “It hurts so good, come on child.” It simply form of got here from nowhere. I did not need to write that tune. However I used to be taking part in in bars. And I noticed how folks behaved in bars and what they did to one another, and what they did to one another once they thought no person was round. And actually that is what that tune is about, it was written in a really juvenile means. However actually what I believed I used to be making an attempt to say is that what we do to one another in the dead of night is who we’re. Not the face that we placed on for folks to see.
Baltin: Clearly the title observe references playing cards and specifically poker. Are you any good at poker?
Mellencamp: I may be good at poker. I will inform you, you are in a rock band. And there is a number of nights that you’ve got days off. And notably within the ’80s and ’90s. Now, I can not even get folks to play poker with me.
Baltin: Who could be your dream poker quintet?
Melencamp: Though he is useless, I wish to play Arthur Miller. I wish to play with John Huston. That is who I actually need to play, is John Huston. And I might wish to play with Marlon Brando and James Cagney. And I might wish to play with Bob Dylan.
Baltin: What’s it about John Huston?
Mellencamp: I like John Huston. He is extra of an inspiration to me than any singer or songwriter, besides possibly Dylan and Guthrie. However John Huston was married 5 occasions, and he died in Mexico. He lived the life, man. And he simply lived. And he was a gambler, he was a womanizer. He was all of the issues that John Mellencamp as a youngster thought he would develop as much as be, however did not. John Huston was a free man. That is the best way I take a look at it. He lived the best way that he needed to dwell. He did not play by any guidelines. As a result of like I mentioned earlier, there is a membership, and we ain’t in it. Me and you aren’t in it, and it is the identical membership that use each f**king day to beat us over the top. So f**ok them. And so they’re known as company America.
Baltin: Let’s wrap up on the brand new album. It is not a simple file however I admire that. As a result of it feels so trustworthy and genuine.
Mellencamp: I am not for everybody anymore. I used to be someplace the opposite evening and a few man got here as much as me and he mentioned, “, music is simply not the identical.”And he mentioned, “It is simply not the identical. And there is not any good songwriters anymore.” And I went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” I’m going, “Wait a minute. Have you ever heard my final file?” He goes, “No.” I’m going, “Have you ever heard Bruce’s final file?” He goes, “No”. I’m going, “Have you ever heard Dylan’s final file?” He went, “No.” I’m going, “Have you ever heard Woody Guthrie’s final file?” He mentioned, “No.” I mentioned, “Perhaps there’s nonetheless music on the market. You are simply not listening. There’s the issue. You are not listening. It is nonetheless being made. It is nonetheless on the market, however you are simply not listening. You grew up. Too unhealthy for you.”