Everything was great until it sucked: Mellencamp Kinda Guy.
[NOTE: in true summer fashion, I was too lazy to write something new and pulled this from the Wensink vault. I am no longer 26, but stand behind the old me 100%.]
We’re in the car and there’s a lull in the conversation on our way to the grocery store. I decide it’s time to open up to my lady. It’s time to make my feelings public and impossible to take back . It’s a moment that arrives at some point in every serious relationship.
I need to clear my conscience.
“I think,” I say as the radio fizzles into silence in my head. “I think I’m a John Mellencamp kinda guy.”
Ahhhhh, with that off my shoulders all tension melts. This is the kind of step alcoholics take at their first group meetings. This is the moment bank robbers turn themselves in to the authorities. For me, the road to recovery is paved with copies of “Little Pink Houses.”
My wife sits silent for a second, bricks of tension start stacking again. “Okay, Pat,” she says in the same uninterested way she agrees when I suggest we add salad to our dinner.
As we pull into the grocery store, it becomes painfully obvious she doesn’t appreciate what I just told her. She doesn’t comprehend how massive this moment is. She was clearly never a Midwestern boy during the 1990s.
John Cougar Mellencamp and I have been at odds for almost fifteen years. A cold war of sorts. We’ve never actually come to blows, had a battle of the bands or even spoken, but, I assume he’s standing in a Seymour, IN cornfield, knowing I was once gunning for him.
In Cougar’s defense, he’s never lashed out at me. He’s done what he’s done for almost thirty years (I’m not kidding here, look it up). A fact, in my 26th year, which leads me to appreciate the man. But from age 14-26 I hated the Indiana troubadour for one reason: Girls.
Mellencamp is one of only three citizens of note from the State that Corn Built. The others being Michael Jackson and Larry Bird. That’s not bad considering I grew up one state over and one of Ohio’s only pop culture contributions was America’s fattest president. It’s possible jealousy played a role, but I doubt it.
The problem is that ALL Midwestern girls ages 14-26 love John Cougar Mellencamp. It’s state law to sing “Jack and Diane” at the top of their lungs if they are in a car with more than one other girl. Needless to say, this is incredibly annoying for 14-26 year old boys. There is a serious lack of understanding between the two groups, since the only music boys will sing together usually involves Metallica.
But really, there is no problem with any sex of Midwesterner singing any song at the top of their lungs. The real sand in my shoes is simple: Midwestern girls ages 14-26 have terrible taste in music.
Here is a sample of the CD collection of any girl from Cleveland to Kansas City. While this isn’t a complete discography, it’s safe to say that any female from this demographic owns 75% of what I’m talking about.
- The Eagles “Greatest Hits”
- U2 “Greatest Hits”
- Natalie Merchant “Tigerlilly”
- Probably one, if not two, Shania Twain records
- “Totally 80s,” “I Love the 80s” or “The 80s Greatest Hits,” but possibly all three.
- Tom Petty “Greatest Hits”
- Bryan Adams “Greatest Hits”
- Madonna “Immaculate Collection”
And of course…John Cougar Mellencamp “Greatest Hits”
Being an enlightened (also known as “Snobby”) Midwestern music fan whose pride and joy was a complete Sonic Youth discography circa 1998, any artist that a 14-26 year old female would play in her car, I deduced, must suck.
This wasn’t just my theory.
My friends, 14-26 year old Midwestern boys (Also known as Metallica fans [see above image]), made sure anyone caught humming a melody from any of the above albums would be publicly humiliated in a way only 14-26 year old Midwestern boys can. This was double-true if you were caught within five yards of a Natalie Merchant record. And frankly, it still should be.
So how did I come to this heavenly-beam-of-light realization that I am a Mellencamp kinda guy?
I have no idea.
I have a hunch that it revolves around the fact that I’m not 16 years old anymore. Apparently, things I thought sucked a decade ago (See also: vegetables, John Cougar Mellencamp, my parents) are quite enjoyable. It just takes time and maturity to appreciate these gifts. Now that I’m a mature husband and music connoisseur (also known as “Snobby”), I can fully appreciate things like “Little Pink Houses.”
Another good reason is that John Cougar and I share a lot in common.
Indiana and Ohio are such close neighbors there’s no way to know, without the benefit of Department of Transportation “Welcome” signs, where one’s cornfields begin and the others’ end.
2.I Was Born in a Small Town.
3. I Fought Authority and Authority Always Wins.
When I was 17, I was arrested for loitering in Deshler. As John Mellencamp can attest, when its 12:30 at night in a town of 2,000 people, the police have a lot of time on their hands. Hence, being arrested for loitering. I attempted to fight this charge in juvenile court with the defense: “Um, your Honor, so you’re telling me that Loitering is considered standing in one place, without the intent to move? Well, I was going to move eventually, my curfew is, like, 1:00 AM.” While I think the judge and I both agreed this was a waste of our time, I was still found guilty and given a strict curfew that entire summer.
The Coug’ also has many admirable qualities that I never fully appreciated until I became a Mellencamp Kinda Guy.
1. The 80s Came to Him.
While he is considered an 80s star, Indiana’s favorite son started his recording career in 1976. He released seven records that nobody gave a shit about and are generally considered not even worthy additions to the record collection of 14-26 year old girls. Over this time, he developed a sound based in blues and folk and rock ‘n’ roll, evolving into a Midwestern Springsteen. He never compromised his sound or integrity to fit an 80s niche. His stardom and fame and admiration of 14-26 year old girls across the heartland came on his own terms.
2. He Smokes like a Chimney.
I am not a smoker, but it doesn’t take an anthropology degree to know that smoking cigarettes looks cool. It probably looks like the coolest thing a man can do, next to playing in a rock band. Combining the two is a license to print money. Mellencamp’s cigarette intake is legendary. I assume every schoolboy in Indiana can recite by heart Larry Bird’s statistics and how many packs-a-day John Cougar smokes.
3. This Guy Can Write a Catchy Tune.
You can’t deny that “Paper and Fire” or “Cherry Bomb” aren’t sticky sweet. And for some reason they sound better between the months of May and August. The Cougar’s tunes usually involve young love, kicking The Man in the balls and tractors. As a boy who could pick corn from his back yard, this should have been my soundtrack from age 14 on.
Luckily, I didn’t entirely miss the boat.
So my wife and I get out of the car and I feel sort of embarrassed. Not for admitting my deep desire to hear “Human Wheels,” but for the time I put into deciding it.
After I got a Mellencamp number stuck in my head I spent the better part of an afternoon at work reading the man’s biography and debating whether or not this is a road I want to travel down. The 16 year-old Pat would be surprised that ten years later, this is what I waste my time thinking about.
Here I am, a married man living in a new millennium full of technology, violence, and free pornography and I spend my day wondering what kind of impression owning a John Cougar CD will leave on my old lady.
I’m never ever worried about whether or not Leah and I should someday bring a child into this world [editor's note: yes, I am.]. A world in which he or she will, more than likely, become a meth addict…or worse a republican. Past-tense Me would be surprised that Mortgage rates don’t keep me up at night. Although, 16 year-old me would be pretty psyched that a woman has agreed to sleep with me on regular basis.
Sixteen year old me must come to grips that, yes, I am a Mellencamp man. He has to realize that, yes, vegetables are delicious. He also needs to see that as you grow, you learn that stuff you used to resist is exactly what you need.
But even if we never see eye-to-eye on one Johnathan Cougar, at least he and I can agree to turn down the Metallica and yank a massive wedgie on anyone listening to Natalie Merchant. Some things you just don’t grow into. “Tigerlilly” being tops on the list.