Feb 102011

The Cougar Conundrum?

In a recent interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, songwriter Rodney Crowell inadvertantly touched on a subject that we in the Halls of Rock can no longer ignore: The Mellencamp Conundrum. Crowell was telling a story of his young, aspiring songwriter self meeting with legendary Amercan songwriter Guy Clark. The sage passed along the following words of wisdom to the young man the ropes:

You can be an artist or you can be a star. You can be an artist who becomes a star, but I don’t know if you can do it the other way around.

Just hours before I heard that interview Rock Town Hall was bursting at the seams with the need to finally examine the plight of John Mellencamp. The Mellencamp Conundrum is named for the artist, who has spent more of his career trying to live down his youthful, “overnight” success as heartland pop-rock sensation John(ny) Cougar than possibly any pop sensation in the history of rock ‘n roll who has ever attempted to “do it the other way around,” as Guy Clark warned young songwriter Rodney Crowell against attempting.


  22 Responses to “Songwriter Rodney Crowell Inadvertantly Touches on The Mellencamp Conundrum”

  1. John just seems like an angry man who is not happy with his commerical or artistic successes or failures. I was his #1 fan in 1982 and was a big fan until 2001 ( I did not care for Cuttin Heads much). I still buy his records but I never play them (the new ones). Saw him twice, both great shows (1986 and 1991) and he played the HITS all night for both of these shows.

    I think he wants to be Guy Clark but the Crublin’ Down video has frozen him in time (of 1985).

    His heroes (Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, Willie Nelson) have all somehow been able to get past the 1980’s and he is still stuck as the mental poster boy for MTV’s “Paint The Mother Pink” contest and 80’s video hour on VH1 Classics.

  2. I’m not sure any rocker has ever needed a wedgie more.

  3. BigSteve

    Don’t the Beatles and the Stones disprove Guy Clark’s rule?

  4. Good point, BigSteve, although it could be argued that predates the days when rock musicians thought of themselves as Artists, not to mention when whatever kind of musician Rodney Crowell and colleagues consider themselves thought of themselves as Songwriters.

  5. shawnkilroy

    the Beastie Boys were stars who became artists.

  6. Now THAT disproves Guy Clark, although to be fair Guy said he didn’t know if it could be done.

  7. Great post Mr. Mod — thanks. He’s no longer a poor man’s Bruce in my book. As much as I like Bruce, I still play Mellencamp more often — and it could be my “Midwest” bias.

    I first saw JCM on The Lonesome Jubilee tour — in Omaha — and it remains one of my Top 5 shows ever. Lisa Germano was on board and when she started up the fiddle — on Check It Out — it brought down the house. Scarecrow, Lonesome Jubilee, Big Daddy, Whenever We Wanted, and Human Wheels are really good records.

    I can see why people think he’s full of it and now he’s split with his second wife (horror! she also a golfer!) and hanging with Meg Ryan. But you know, with Willie and Neil he’s done a lot for people through Farm Aid. A few years ago he was on a family vacation in an RV and was doing free shows for people at the campgrounds he’s was staying at.

    I don’t mind the Cougar years, but I enjoy where he’s at now more. I’ll see him next Tuesday in at Constitution Hall DC and keep an eye out for Meg. I think I’m in the eighth row.

  8. That’s cool, funoka. I’m fine with some of his music, and I think he’s for real about wanting to be taken more seriously. I’m just amazed at the uphill battle he’s faced. Now, I don’t think he’s half the Artist he wants to be, but after hearing that Rodney Crowell go on about his Art the way his mom went on with her faith healing nonsense I’d listen to “Check it Out” or “Cherry Bomb” (or whatever that song’s called) any day of the week over the “Art” of Crowell and his cronies.

  9. On the unrelated Rodney Crowell issue. I have to defend him a bit— He really has written some good songs — Ashes By Now (for Emmylou) Shame on the Moon (for Seger) and Ain’t Living Long Like This. Crowell’s entire Diamonds & Dirt album is a classic, but that was 20 some years ago. I am going to download the Fresh Air podcast to see what Crowell songs they played. (My wife is reading his book on her Kindle this week! She finds his memory of events that happened when he was 2 or 3 or 4 years old a bit hard to take)

  10. BigSteve

    I’ll stick up for Diamonds & Dirt too. Great album. I think both he and wife at the time Roseanne Cash pulled back after breaking through for personal as well as artistic reasons. Both of them ended up going towards Art with a capital A but ended up with very different styles.

    Speaking of Guy Clark and books, I’m right in the middle of the authorized biography of another of his acolytes, Steve Earle. I’m coming up on the scariest part right now. Man that guys was really out there even before he bottomed out.

  11. BigSteve

    I like Mellencamp more when he walks the line between rock and folk. Just like Springsteen, when he goes all the way in the faux Okie direction he loses me.

  12. Maybe they were artists who became stars quickly. I think Guy might have meant that you can’t first become an artist after already having become a star without being one.

  13. That truck ad he did was a major Rock Crime, amplifying the jingoism of that crappy “Pink Houses” song.

    Randy Newman makes fun of him on his latest record, and rightfully so.

  14. I’ve got to get that book. At one Steve Earle show I saw in 1995 – he did a one off gig at the Birchmere in DC — he showed up an hour late — and was so out of it I couldn’t believe it. Just him, his guitar and skinny as rail. He did songs off Guitar Town on muscle memory alone, I think.

  15. BigSteve

    1995 really? He got out of jail in 1994 and was supposed to have been clean by then.

    The book I’m talking about is Hardcore troubadour : the life and near death of Steve Earle. I’m right at the point where he’s going to switch from heroin to crack. Good times.

  16. I am probably wrong — it was just before he went to jail — so probably 93 — the guy I went with keeps all his ticket stubs, so I’ll check.

  17. jeangray

    You buy the new records but don’t listen to them?

  18. jeangray

    He’s certainly an easy target, but I got to give it up to him for introducing me to Lisa Germano. Just for that move alone he’s atoned for “Pink Houses.” (shudder)

    That was hard to write!

  19. You’re a better person for having done so:)

  20. misterioso

    I have gone from actively disliking him to passively not minding him to simply paying no attention to him whatsoever, which may represent a progression of some kind, though I am not sure at this point. I still get irritated when I hear Jack and Diane and probably would still tap my foot if I heard Lonely Old Night, if that means anything.

  21. jeangray

    My skin crawls whenever “Jack & Diane” comes on. Sucking on chili dogs indeed.

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