John Mellencamp’s Mortal Reckoning

Amanda Petrusich at The New Yorker:

In 2012, the singer and songwriter John Mellencamp was given the John Steinbeck Award, presented annually to an artist, thinker, activist, or writer whose work exemplifies, among other virtues, Steinbeck’s “belief in the dignity of people who by circumstance are pushed to the fringes.” The grace of the marginalized is a long-standing theme of Mellencamp’s writing. The musician, who comes from Indiana and began releasing records in the late nineteen-seventies, is known as a populist soothsayer, an irascible and unpretentious spokesman for hardworking, rural-born folks. Yet Mellencamp has also bristled at this characterization, which is largely rooted in fantasy: men gazing wistfully out the windows of vintage pickup trucks, watching dust blow by, listening to some parched and distant radio station. The image of such “real,” non-coastal Americans has become a useful cudgel for conservatives looking to depict their opponents as élitist buffoons; Mellencamp finds this grotesque. “Let’s address the ‘voice of the heartland’ thing,” he told Paul Rees, whose satisfying biography, “Mellencamp,” came out last year. “Indiana is a red state. And you’re looking at the most liberal motherfucker you know. I am for the total overthrow of the capitalist system. Let’s get all those motherfuckers out of here.”

more here.