The Friday Morning Listen: John Mellencamp – No Better Than This (2010)

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I had intended for this essay to start out something like this:

OK, I’ll come right out and say it. I used to hate John Mellencamp. Back then he was known as John Cougar. All of my friends had their copies of American Fool, and I had to put up with that freaking “Jack and Diane” thing. Too bad my JazzSnob™ phase hadn’t taken off yet. I could have tortured them with…

Before I got around to sing the praises of Mellencamp’s recent output, there was to be additional back story about how I grew to appreciate him, beginning somewhere around Uh-Huh (“Pink Houses”) and then turning a sharp corner with the release of Scarecrow. There was that concert in ’93 and the post-divorce “Wild Night” story (which is less interesting than it sounds), and some other things. Finally, there is T-Bone Burnett phenomenon, which has extracted the essence of Mellencamp’s ideas. The soul of the latest recording had already been perfectly presented by Something Else! cohort Nick DeRiso, so I thought I might look at things from the audiophile angle.

But then I got to chatting over the Internet with an old friend of mine. She told me that a high school classmate had died unexpected just last Sunday. It was something about a freak accident involving a tractor and a rough patch of field. Tom was 49 years old. Too young, as they say.

I went to a very small school, so you knew pretty much everybody. I’d hung out with Tom a little bit in the early years. He seemed like a pleasant guy, though I can’t say that I really knew him. A lot of years have passed, as they say.

There’s a part of me that wants to run away from news like this, to run away from the songs that Mellencamp has produced as of late. They’re almost too real, too raw. My recent experiences with death have been receding into my past, and yet a sharply-focused tune like “A Graceful Fall” can bring those memories right back in focus. “I’m sick of life/and it’s lost its fun/I’ll see you in the next world/if there really is one.” I’ve seen people give up. I’d rather not see it again.

Avoidance of songs, lines of thought, and old memories can’t really save you. We deal with this stuff as best we can, so taking a short break from songs that put you back in the wrong headspace? That can’t be a bad thing.

Hopefully, we can accept life’s relentless momentum in a way that doesn’t ruin our time here. On John Mellencamp’s previous album Life, Death, Love and Freedom, I was struck by the key lyric to “Longest Days,” related to him by his grandmother:

Life is short, even in its longest days.

And so it is.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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