On rock ‘n roll, John Mellencamp, and calling the Midwest home

My first concert was a little like my first kiss: initially frightening but ultimately a good time, and now slightly embarrassing. The kiss was part of a spin-the-bottle game, and the concert was John Mellencamp, one of the newest members of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved Mellencamp since I can remember, but society has always ostracized me for singing along in my car to the likes of “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” and “Jack and Diane.” Damn you, society!

In a great post over at The Onion Av Club, Steve Hyden takes a look at the career of John Mellencamp, and explains how his feelings about Mellencamp’s music have paralleled his feelings about his much-maligned home, the Midwest, a place where travelers (and everyone) often see little of value.

As travelers, we can often feel as if our hometowns don’t really have much to offer. Always on the go, we’re concerned not with what’s out there, but with what else is out there. Hyden’s post is a reminder of Proust’s famous statement that, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Here’s a somewhat lengthy excerpt:

“After spending (too) much of my life desperately wishing I was from somewhere else, I’ve become something of a Midwest nationalist in the past several years. I’ve come to realize that after consuming way too much media as a kid, I was brainwashed into believing that “Middle America” was a pejorative term rather than a geographic area.

“I once believed I lived in Nowheresville, and that I was part of the Nowhere people; just a bunch of anonymous hicks responsible for putting Republicans in the White House and keeping cuss words off the teevee… I was one misguided dude, and it caused me to miss a lot of great things situated directly in front of my nose, like the coziness of a supper club on Friday fish fry night; the unbridled joy of a sweltering, all-too-short summer after a long winter; or the dazzling vistas of breathtaking natural beauty that are always just a short drive away. Not only do I appreciate it all now, I’ve come to believe that there’s no place I’d rather be.”

“Truth be told, John Mellencamp is an easy guy to make fun of. His song “Our Country” has recently been featured in roughly 10, 839 Chevy truck ads. He often wears vests with no shirt underneath… Oh, and he also once named himself after a large, killer cat. But Mellencamp, for better or worse, is my Skynyrd– he specializes in expressions of potent, defensive pride in the region I love… More than anything else, Mellencamp gets put down because he’s from Seymour, Ind., and being from a place like Seymour, Ind. is really fucking funny to some people. And his response to that, simply, is “Fuck you.”… I’m as sick of hearing “Small Town” on classic rock radio stations as anybody else, but there’s a part of me that says, “Yeah, me too,” when I hear it now.”

Whole thing here.