Saturday, October 08, 2011

The ennobling populism of John Mellencamp: "Small Town" and "Our Country"

Music on Saturday @ The Reaction

As we're doing fairly long NFL picks/analysis posts each Sunday (up at 11 am), we've moved Music on Sunday to Music on Saturday for the duration of the NFL season.


No reason for this clip today other than that I really like John Mellencamp. Yes, I know, that whole "This is Our Country" thing for Chevy was annoying, mainly because the gratuitous, manipulative ad seemed to be everywhere and because it seemed like Mellencamp was selling out, but actually "Our Country," while schmaltzy, is pretty good. Besides, what's wrong with that sort of "up-with-all-the-people" populism? This is our country -- the country of ordinary folk, not the country of the Wall Street plutocrats, not the country of some ordinary folk, as Republicans would have us believe, a country united, not divided. That's a simple message, perhaps, but it's one that resonates, or should, particularly at a time when the right, as it usually does, wages relentless, class and moral/religious warfare, seeking to divide the country into "us" and "them."

By way of comparison, Springsteen has generally espoused a more complex populism, and his songs are more complex, but Mellencamp has always been admirably direct with his politics. There is a tendency, I think, to write Mellencamp off as too '80s, but I've always found his appeal much broader, with music and social commentary that transcended that generally horrible decade. And his great run through the '80s -- American Fool (1982), Uh-Huh (1983), the wonderful Scarecrow (1985), and The Lonesome Jubilee (1987) -- was pretty impressive. That's some of the best American music of the decade, music that holds up still. And his music since has been strong as well, with stand-out songs like "Human Wheels" (1993), "Dance Naked" (1994), "Peaceful World" (2001), and, yes, "Our Country" (2007) proving that he's still on top of his game after all these years.

Here are the videos for "Small Town" (off Scarecrow) and "Our Town." They're somewhat similar, though made many years apart, and they showcase, I think, what John Mellencamp is all about.

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