John Mellencamp

john-mellencamp

A little ditty ’bout Jack & Diane
Two American kids growing up in the heart land
Jack he’s gonna be a football star
Diane debutante in the back seat of Jacky’s car
Suckin’ on chilli dog outside the Tastee Freez
Diane sitting on Jacky’s lap
Got his hands between her knees
Jack he says:
“Hey, Diane, let’s run off behind a shady tree
Dribble off those Bobby Brooks
Let me do what I please”
Saying oh yeah
Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone
Sayin’ oh yeah
Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone
Now walk on
Jack he sits back, collects his thoughts for a moment
Scratches his head, and does his best James Dean
Well, now then, there, Diane, we ought to run off to the city
Diane says:
“Baby, you ain’t missing nothing”
But Jack he says:
“Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone”
Oh yeah
He says: “life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone”
Oh, let it rock, let it roll
Let the bible belt come and save my soul
Holdin’ on to sixteen as long as you can
Change is coming ’round real soon
Make us woman and man
Oh yeah, life goes on
A little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane
Two American kids doin’ the best they can
Songwriters: John Mellencamp
I have a very distinct memory of hearing this song in a dive bar in Macomb, Illinois. I had just arrived for graduate school and was feeling like an alien in a strange flat, wonderful land.  By wonderful, I am not talking picturesque, I’m talking “I’m out in the world on my own – in this kinda scary, bleak end of a town I barely know, hearing this mid-west music, doin’ the best I can.  John Cougar was the the beginning of the soundtrack for this part of my life.
Macomb was actually quite lovely. Typical town square-centered set up. It was home to Western Illinois University where I was working on my masters in English.  I arrived there breathless after a cross country drive in a beat up Opal Cadet with no air conditioning and only AM radio. Scared to death to venture out on my own, I set off from Vermont after my father gave me a tutorial on how to change a car tire. I remember crossing the VT/NY state line and crying, knowing for the rest of my life I would miss Vermont.  I finished the day in Rochester, NY – stopping in to visit my aunt. The next day I was off and drove to Cleveland.  I stopped at a Howard Johnsons. I had spent the summer between college and grad school working at the local HoJos as a hostess – so it was familiar. It was what I knew. I ate in the restaurant and then went back to my room.  My door faced the parking lot where my car was packed with all my worldly possessions.  I don’t know if it was my total excitement or my fear that my car would be robbed during the night – but I didn’t sleep at all that night – I wore out the carpet going from the bed to the peep hole to check on my car.  I was on the road at dawn  – miles and miles of boring road.  I hit Indianapolis by lunch time.  I had planned on staying there overnight, but I had hours of daylight still, so I pressed on past the endless soy beans, corn stalks and silos.  I arrived in Macomb just before dusk and wandered the streets of Macomb.  I found a Walmart – what wondrous store was this?  I stopped and got a few supplies for my campus apartment – including a rug I should not have bought.  I got settled into my new life. I had arrived.
My tiny little Vermont world was expanding.  I had a radio, no TV.  I had the radio on and listened to the local channel – hog reports and obituaries. It was kinda ironic – I went to Illinois to get out of rural Vermont and landed in the rural mid-west.  Meeting my colleagues helped me settle in – we were all in the same boat – all from somewhere else and winding up here. So we were all in that dive bar that night…the night I heard John Cougar (Mellencamp).
Mellencamp is coming to NC this summer. I am looking forward to my trip back in the way back machine and remembering how I bravely broke loose and ran “off to the city.” Haha. I’m back in the mid-west itching for life to unfold.
Post Script:
Mellencamp came to NC and it was pretty great. From the footlights flooding the performers on stage and the semi-formal attire of the band – to the bleak concrete graffiti back drop the look was magical like an old time medicine show.  The setlist kept the ball rolling with great momentum. From the moment he stepped up on stage, the audience was on its feet and Mellencamp delivered on his promise to play some songs that every knew, some that no one would know, plenty to sing along with and a lot of dancing.
His voice is great – I’m pretty amazed given his epic reputation for chain smoking for years even after heart surgery. He moves like he did in the 80’s. He even dropped the tuxedo jacket and came out in his signature vest and white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up.  John Cougar was in the house.
His new album is good. We listened to it on the way to the concert and were delighted when he played a couple of tracks from it that we really enjoyed on first listen. He graciously shared the stage with his musicians and with Carlene Carter (a collaborator on his new album and step-daughter of Johnny Cash) and Emmylou Harris for a song or two.  I have to say the violinist was great.
Of course he played Jack and Diane – but he played it acoustic and the audience sang along – and got the audience got the lyrics wrong – which produced a light moment in the sea of “oh well.”  I’m sure I’m not the only one that wanted the real thing.  His set up of the song left me thinking he was a. sick of singing it and b.embarrassed that this is what he was writing in his early 20’s; and c. suck it up – it launched a career.
He played John Cocker from Life, Death, Love and Freedom – I was wanting to hear Longest Days, but it was outside of the range of the bluesy, gospel, roots rock that he is offering up on this tour.
My favorite song was Small Town.  It always hits me on a gut level and reminds me that I will always be from a small town even though I now live in not so small places. Being at these concerts gives you a small town connection when you meet other people who share the same joy in music. Last night we met two people who made the world a little smaller and connected.  Jamie was there with her mom, standing next to us in line to get in. She drove 3 hours to get to the concert – a gift to her mother.  We asked what other concerts she’s interested in and she said, “Well, you probably wouldn’t be interested in this, but I really want to see Tom Petty.”  We in fact love Tom Petty and told her about our plans to be in Baltimore. She’s contemplating the trip and we may see her there.  Tom sat behind us and we leaned into his conversation with the people sitting next to him. We all chatted about Mellencamp and our ties to his music. Tom, it turns out, is doing what my husband and I are doing – planning life around going to concerts (seeking joy in music would be an appropriate sub-title).  Tom has been to many of the same concerts we have been to and has plans for many that we are going to – in fact he is coming here to see Roger Waters next month and has promised some epic cooking pre-show in the parking lot.  We bow to him – he, from NYC, saw the Talking Heads at CBGBs, saw Led Zeppelin and David Bowie – elusive and impossible now.  There was a geek convention right there in our little section of the cheap seats.  We had some misty moments remembering Gregg Allman concerts and Sharon Jones. Turns out we were all there for those concerts at Booth Amphitheater.
The most poignant places in the show were when he played Crumblin Down and Pink Houses – 7 thousand people singing this and I’m pretty sure they feel the same way I do – walls and the American Dream are sore subjects these days. Not a word of politics was spoken (thank you) but the offering of Easy Target off the new CD let you in on Mellencamp’s gut take on time like these.
Great solid show and reinforcement that we all live in a Small Town.  Thank you John Cougar Mellencamp for bringing me back in time to a time when I had to make the big world small.  The work continues.
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