Artist: John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp (born 7 October 1951 in Seymour, Indiana) is an American singer-songwriter, known for a long and successful recording and performing career highlighted by a series of 1980s hits, including "Jack & Diane", and by his role in the Farm Aid charity event. Mellencamp currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
John's first record released was under the stage name "Johnny Cougar" at the behest of Tony DeFries, his first manager. Mellencamp claims it was against his knowledge and will, and he hated the name. A few years later in 1982, he made his break through with the album "American Fool" which includes the hit singles "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane" under the stage name "John Cougar". With 1983's "Uh-Huh" album, he added back his real last name to become known as "John Cougar Mellencamp." By 1987's "The Lonesome Jubilee" he dropped the "Cougar" moniker altogether, and has been known henceforth as "John Mellencamp."
Mellencamp has always been socially and politically active and supported the "Vote for Change" Tour in 2004 opposing the policies of President George W. Bush. Mellencamp is a devout evangelical Christian and strongly believes in non-violence; he has spoken about his beliefs frequently in interviews. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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John Cougar Mellencamp: Scarecrow (PolyGram) Village Voice, Sep 1985
NOW IS PROBABLY not the time for all good men to sing about their country. That's because most good men are bound to come up short against the man who, at this moment, is doing it best.
It may be the greatest irony of John Cougar Mellencamp's 10-year journey from industry goof to serious rocker to be just finding his voice at the peak of Brucemania. At any other moment, Mellencamp's eighth album, Scarecrow (PolyGram) full of rural color, one-take energy, and superb intentions might be hailed as a triumph. But this summer, as Springsteen applies direct pressure to the same, artery of American consciousness Mellencamp probes, Scarecrow seems minor, like an Afterbirth in the U.S.A.
What's sad is that Scarecrow contains some of Mellencamp's finest perceptions, in Minutes to Memories, Rain on the Scarecrow, Smalltown, and Between a Laugh and a 'Tear. It also has bloopers (Justice and Independence '85, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A). Then again, until Jack and Diane and Hurts So Good, the horny teen chants that made his commercial breakthrough, American Fool, 1982's best-selling album (three million copies), his history was one humongous bloop. In the mid-'70s, fresh from Indiana, Mellencamp became the schlub Tony "Idolmaker" DeFries wanted to lip-gloss the way he'd created the star who'd just left him Bowie. The only person who missed the punchline was Cougar, who was stuck with his manager's idea of a smart name and a dud 1976 debut, Chestnut Street Incident. Spirit and arrogance sustained Cougar for six years as he bounced among managers, labels, and producers who tried to turn him into Neil Diamond. Now, having bucked the odds to advance from bumpkin to bundle-maker, he's risking it all, as he says on Scarecrow, "to stand for somethin'."
Mellencamp's determined to assert his real identity (will he slay the Cougar once and for all on the next album?), which he began to flesh out on last year's Uh-Huh. On Uh-Huh, he finally had the muscle to strip down and pump hard like the exile on main street he'd always been. More important, the teen jerk persona of early Cougar songs (i.e., "I need a lover who won't drive me crazy/Some girl who knows the meaning of, hey, hit the highway") had swaggered off. The human being who arrived in Mellencamp songs is a likable, funny Hoosier, with an ear for mean guitar, an occasionally maudlin eye for detail, and a big heart.
On Scarecrow, Mellencamp's heart has gotten bigger, which gives the best songs here power and glory. He's addressing issues far more serious than earlier concerns, like getting laid (not, come to think of it, that that isn't serious). But here he's more committed to public affairs than private ones. "We've got to start respectin' this world," he sings, "Or it's gonna bite off our face". In a pair of whipping rockers, Face of a Nation and the brutal Rain on the Scarecrow, he evokes the ruin, rage, and anguish of the farm belt, where Mellencamp's neighbors and relatives are losing their dignity along with their land. He's not jumping on the famine-as-chic movement; he's looking out his own window in Small-town, a tender jig. Perhaps that's why his rough and serviceable voice, which sometimes has all of the charm of an old corncob, has never sounded so impassioned
Yet on Scarecrow Mellencamp's ambition often exceeds his grasp. Justice and Independence '85 is rhythmically rousing but so embarrassingly awkward ("Oh Oh/When a Nation cries/His tears fall down like missiles from the skies") you wish he'd do some remedial reading. He's obsessed with this justice thing, though. It turns up again in You've Got to Stand for Somethin', and on August 14 he and wife Victoria welcomed daughter number two, Justice J. Mellencamp (5 pounds, 13 ounces).
But what's keeping noble sentiments and many fine moments from adding up to a masterpiece are not lapses like the Stallonian arena tickler R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A or Grandma's Theme (he may want to hear his grandmother sing a lullaby, but do his listeners?). What's wrong is that as he has gotten more agitated, his longtime Indiana band sounds too comfy. The appeal of Cougar's hit singles wasn't only in the fuck-today-die-tomorrow angle kids like. The huge guitars that sideswiped your ears were essential. On Scarecrow Mellencamp shifts into familiar gears, but there's not enough gas. Even when the feel is on, the licks are off. On Between a Laugh and a Tear a complex, adult take on love, you can almost hear the knowing grins Mellencamp and Rickie Lee Jones are trading in the vocal booth, but the guitars are nodding off. Maybe Mellencamp should seek out an empathetic producer who'd edit him and push his buddies into coming up with hooks as monumental as his feelings. (Maybe a rock critic should adopt Mellencamp.)
Meanwhile, Mellencamp's been off the road for about a year, ordering real life instead of room service. The kids who just wanna rock have been running to Bryan Adams, who delivers a Cougarish act, though Mellencamp hasn't abandoned that audience. My favorite rocker on Scarecrow, the chugging Rumble-seat, is the one that suggests he's aware of his place on the pop assembly line. As the chorus rolls out, he confides: "I know what it's' like to be ridin'...in the rumble seat". And he knows who's driving the pink Cadillac.
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