How these three albums came out of a man that should have been completely jaded with the record business at this point in his career is something miraculous, and a true testament to perseverance. I’m talking about American Fool, Uh-Huh, and Scarecrow by the man of many monikers, John Mellencamp.
Listen to “Cheap Shot” from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did and you would never expect his next album to be a commercial breakthrough. (Actually, American Fool was almost totally scrapped by his label.)
Who would question the output of a wise ass such as this:
Labeled as heartland rock and the next Neil Diamond, while this totally mocks a culture and barely anyone got the joke.
That being said, American Fool kicked (and still kicks) some serious ass, in listenability, lyricism, and sales. Fitting for him, the title track was among the songs that were nixed from the initial release. Nose-thumbing and still succeeding in the business—admirable today, much more so then. My tender ears could feel the honesty in all three of these albums, which were a large part of my 80s listening pleasure. In “honesty,” I mean the evidence of his love/hate for what he’s doing. I think there are a bunch of singer-songwriters out there that owe a nod to this dude, but refrain for odd reasons. Maybe they’re waiting until he kicks the bucket, in true industry fashion. Regardless, I love this man. As a child, I wanted to be him, he was the shit. Anyone who listens to “Weakest Moments” and hates it is a person I’d rather not speak with.
In walks Uh-Huh. This one was the kicker for me. I can still remember my parents showing my sister and I how to turn on the receiver, place the record on the turntable and set the needle. This album has a special place in my heart, I can remember jumping around to “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” like it was yesterday. And the delightfully playful “Jackie O,” which was done with John Prine. I used to stare at the album art and wish I was cool, not even fully comprehending the messages in the songs. Now, I like them even more. “Forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar.”
And then, Scarecrow. Another beast of an album, telling people everything they should already know within an awesome rock and roll album. From the horse’s mouth in 1985: “I wrote a song called ‘Stand For Something,’ but I never did say what you should stand for— except your own truth. That song was supposed to be funny, too, and I hope people got that. But I think that’s the key to the whole LP —suggesting that each person come to grips with their own individual truth—and try to like themselves a little bit more. Find out what you as a person are—and don’t let the world drag you down. People should have respect for and believe in themselves.”
This is the reason his music resonates and transcends generations. I know people decades older and decades younger than me who appreciate his work as much as I do. You can’t put a price tag on that.
Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Mellencamp, whatever—I love you. Thank you for being a part of my life.
Justice and Independence ’85