John Mellencamp’s Evolution as an Artist and Refusal to be a Pushover

An icon of the classic rock scene, John Mellencamp has been spinning his musical yarns since the early 80’s. With a career spanning over four decades, a whopping 25 studio albums, and 76-dates Live and in Person Tour, the rocker’s hallmarks of battling unpopular truths and his grip for interesting and honest stories, have solidified him as a great. But ever since his Live and in Person tour, he has continuously earned the respect of not only his fans but also his contemporary artists and renowned personnel, and it seems he is finally getting the true respect he deserves.

This all started when a Cleveland audience member shouted out “play the fing music” after Mellencamp appeared to criticize the United States and its government. To put the raucous fan into place, the 71-year-old responded curtly,

“Listen, hey, you guys, if these people don’t shut the f up I’m just going to leave, OK?”

It became one of the top highlights of his Live and in Person Tour, thus further solidifying not just his uncompromising personality but also his trademark humor and wit.

In the mid-90’s, Mellencamp grabbed headlines when he took a clear shot of disapproval against the introduction of music streaming, as the rise of the Napster corporation then shook the music industry to its very foundation. Though his change of tactics in terms of advertising and musical professions have supported his views – enabling him to get around record labels at first to promote his work was widely unpopular yet absolutely necessary – his action now stands as one of the highest points of his influence as an artist.

Although Mellencamp’s outlook on the world is not always shared by all – particularly his politically-motivated comments – yet his musical journey has always been a field of variety, ranging from inter-generational tales about romance, truisms of the workingman’s blues, and even the yearning for a civilised attitude towards the modern world. In many of the tracks from his AARP-sponsored LP, ‘No Better Than This’, Mellencamp’s lyrics talk about such universal themes such as miscommunication, desperation, doubt, and feelings of being lost – sentiments that are more relevant now than ever before.

However, despite the rather bleak appeal of his songs, John Mellencamp has always been an innovator from when he first declared independence from record labels when they refused to distribute his music, to now – harnessing the power of digital media to distribute his music in more accessible and exciting ways than ever before.

And for anyone who has heard his current singles, “Hey God” and “The Eyes of Portland”, it’s crystal clear that Mellencamp’s uncompromising personality, style, and wit has only grown with time. On “Hey God”, the former-protester-cum-musician gears his lyrics specifically towards the subject of gun violence, while “The Eyes of Portland” sees him lamenting the ongoing housing problem in the city. However well-intentioned, many Portland residents found his take trite. 

His genre-agnostic approach, often hopping from rock to country to blues to folk, also initially lost him fans who expected a certain sound from his music. But, like any revolutionary artist, his challenge of convention would eventually pay off. By refusing to be a pushover, Mellencamp has been able to create something to be remembered for, allowing him to fit into the same molds as his contemporaries while standing out for being different. – Brego