I was a 13 year old boy when I discovered the music of John Mellencamp. His songs were my usher into the world of writing, art, and creativity. A continual source of powerful inspiration in my work and life, I wrote my second book, Mellencamp: American Troubadour, about his music, and the ideas that surround it. The impact and influence of Mellencamp’s music on my life is so large that, without it, it is impossible to conceive of myself.
On Memorial Day, I had the incredible thrill and honor of driving to Nashville, Indiana to visit John Mellencamp in his recording studio. We sat for a long, fascinating, and fun conversation in the same room where he and his band have made so many of my favorite songs since 1983. Then, I watched he and the band rehearse for their upcoming tour, playing “Pink Houses” and “Paper in Fire.” To add to the pleasure and amazement of the experience, I also met the beautiful and soulful Carlene Carter, and had the opportunity to have a discussion with her.
Mellencamp’s first words to me were, “It is a good book.” That simple, but profound compliment is one I will always treasure (He was referring to my work of biography and cultural criticism, Mellencamp: American Troubadour).
Read the essay I wrote on the experience at Salon.
Here is an amusing exchange from our conversation that did not make my essay: After Mellencamp explained that audiences have jeered and heckled him several times throughout his career, he added that, “not once has anyone said anything derogatory to my face.”
“Really, why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Because they know they type of person that I am. Would you say anything?”
Mellencamp laughed. “Well, I’m an old man now. So, you could probably kick my ass. Fifteen years ago, you would have kept your mouth shut.”
I recently had the profound thrill of sitting down in conversation with Warren Haynes, the frontman of Gov’t Mule – a musical unit I recently called the “world’s best band.”
Haynes, a brilliant conversationalist, and I discussed the power and mystery of creativity, the need for personal innovation from artists, and the value of art in times of trouble.
Read my essay on the discussion, Gov’t Mule’s new record, Revolution Come…Revolution Go, and their recent concert performance in Milwaukee, WI, at Salon.
In my new essay at Salon, I use the life of Steve Bannon, controversial and powerful advisor to Donald Trump, as a predicate to explore the problem of meaninglessness in American culture, and how often the search for meaning ends with a cure worse than the illness.
In my new column at Salon, I examine the idea of patriotism, comparing the liberal interpretation of American history with the right wing invention of it, and conclude that those who most obnoxiously wave the flag and shout love of country, are largely ignorant of American history and identity.
Richard Ford, one of America’s greatest novelists, makes his nonfiction debut with the taut and terse memoir, Between Them: Remembering My Parents.
In my new essay for Salon, I review Ford’s beautiful book. I also examine how we are to understand our relationships with our parents, and how we can attempt to fully see our parents as human beings separate from their children – full of virtues and vices; greatness and failure.
Richie Kotzen, an impossibly soulful singer, guitar virtuoso, and prolific songwriter, is one of the best and most underrated musicians in America.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kotzen before attending a recent live performance he and his outstanding band gave in St. Charles, Illinois.
At No Depression, I write about his storied career, and relay his insightful thoughts on songwriting, live performance, and what separates his approach to leading his hard rock band, The Winery Dogs, and creating and playing as a solo artist across a variety of genres.
I had the pleasure of attending the new exhibit on the history of The Rolling Stones, Exhibitionism, in Chicago with my friend – singer, songwriter, guitarist extraordinaire, Kev Wright.
The immersive and interactive experience is essential for any admirer of the Stones, or fan of rock. I was particularly struck by the aesthetic sophistication of the Rolling Stones. From commissioning Andy Warhol to photograph and artistically depict the band to finding inspiration for stage sets in classical philosophy, the Rolling Stones, most especially Mick Jagger, helped cultivate a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, at once capturing and projecting the imager and iconography of rebellion, creativity, individuality, and sexuality.
Read my essay The Rolling Stones and the aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll at Salon.
In a recent column at Salon, I explain why the phony media melodrama about free speech wars on college campuses does not represent reality at the average university. The story is largely an invention.
Read why at Salon.
In my newest essay for Salon, I review feminist scholar Susan Bordo’s topical and timely book, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton.
I admire Hillary Clinton.
Clearly, I am in the minority. To express admiration for Hillary Clinton has become a radical act. While the accomplished public servant is not without flaw (her cynical support for the Iraq War is still infuriating), the level of hatred and hostility that exists for Clinton is clearly hysterical and paranoid; without any basis in the rational universe. She has become history’s greatest monster, even while a gruesome amalgam of stupidity, corruption, and bigotry occupies the Oval Office.
Bordo, as bewildered as I am by the odd animosity for Clinton, analyzes the 2016 election. With an emphasis on misogyny, Bordo presents a convincing case that right wing paranoia, double standards against women, and mass media mediocrity coalesced to poison the public against one of the most intelligent and qualified candidates for the presidency in the modern era.
The book has its weaknesses. Bordo never acknowledges that Clinton made massive missteps in her campaign, but more important, her argumentation is detached from the the actual lives of many voters, most of whom she admits do not pay close attention to politics.
The roots of misogyny are much deeper, and have a much more personal origin, than idiotic journalism or manipulative campaign tactics.
Read how I excavate those roots at Salon.