John Mellencamp: Sixteen and Life to Go

Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Creators: Stephen King, John Mellencamp And T Bone Burnett

It’s a little unnerving to hear a roomful of old people singing “Life goes on/ Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone” and a lot unnerving when you realize you’re one of them. I hadn’t planned to spend my Wednesday night at the Northrop Auditorium with John Mellencamp, but my friend Reed had an extra free ticket and I’d worn out a TDK-90 with Scarecrow dubbed on one side during my junior year of high school so was I turn it down?

At 63, Mellencamp has the blockish skull of a Dick Tracy villain and he thrusts his thick body about with the age-stiffened defiance of a regular TCM viewer. His newer songs, if you’re wondering, are about getting old, but then again, so were his older ones. He’s never been a guy with a lot to say, but his tongue-tied thinking out loud still lends his lyrics an authenticity that compensates for their lack of poetry.

Mellencamp’s politics essentially boil down to a simple question: Can’t a man carve out enough space to flex his ornery autonomy no more? They came a lot closer to the comfortably working-class worldview I grew up around than Bruce’s more visionary romantic solidarity ever did, and John got two great singles about property rights from them: A pitiless protest song about farm foreclosure and an ambivalent celebration of homeownership as consolation prize for duped American dreamers. He rocked ‘em both tonight.

Mellencamp may cling to his limitations, but at least he earnestly dotes on them: One of his best hits, after all, is essentially “small town” repeated obsessively over a loud snare. As a bandleader he reclaimed the rudiments of the Some Girls et seq. Stones as the core of heartland expression. Then he expanded his sound to take in the fiddle and accordion he still tours with today and which came to the fore on his closer, the warmly nostalgic “Cherry Bomb.” Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the beat of Kenny Aronoff is gone.

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