John Mellencamp and The Search for an American Soul: An Interview with the Musical Icon

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.

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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?”

“Maybe.”

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.”

An Exhibition of Excellence: The Music and Performance of Richie Kotzen

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.

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The Rolling Stones and the Art and Aesthetic of Rock ‘n’ Roll

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.

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New Column at Salon: A Love Letter to Alicia Keys

In an era of phony vulgarity, Alicia Keys represents wisdom, authenticity, and genuine artistic vision.

It is impossible to imagine how any sentient human being is not in love with Alicia Keys. Her beauty, no matter what she’s wearing, is so powerful it becomes as poetic as the lyrics of urban, street-smart gospel that animates her latest record, “Here.” Her sensual grace, and effortless charisma, find melodic accompaniment in her intelligence, wit and impassioned investment in the ongoing struggle to inspire individuals to dream without a leash, while attempting to tame the ugly impulses of sexism and racism rampant throughout society.

Read the rest at Salon.

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New Music Writing: Tribute to George Michael, Top Five Records of 2016

In my latest column for Salon, I pay tribute to the late George Michael, who not only wrote, produced, and performed excellent music of irresistible groove and soul, but elevated and celebrated an ethos of mutual pleasure in sexuality. Michael’s treatment of sexuality as an opportunity for reciprocal, erotic enjoyment assaulted both the suffocating Puritanism of Western Culture, and the desire for domination from too many heterosexual men.

Read the essay at Salon.

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Meanwhile, at No Depression, I provide my personal choices for top five records of 2016, featuring Metallica, Marcus King, Tedeschi Trucks, Blackberry Smoke, and Rival Sons.

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Weekend Column with Salon: Art is not an escape – It is our most powerful weapon against apathy

I’ve always believed that art is more important than politics. In my new column for Salon, I celebrate art as communicable of the mysteries of the human spirit, generator of hope, and engineer of connection between seemingly disparate points of human experience.

It is for this reason that art becomes critical in times of political trouble. During the current era of American crisis, I reflect on the popular art that sustains and strengthens me – Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Gov’t Mule, and Kurt Vonnegut. Then, I pay tribute to the controversial collaboration between Beyonce and The Dixie Chicks.

Readers can substitute the names of their own favorite writers and performers.

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New Essay at The Guardian on Metallica

I made my debut at the Guardian, writing for the arts section about Metallica. My essay explains why the popular, juvenile, and boring wrap against the heavy metal legends – that they “sold out,” they haven’t made a good record in decades, etc. – is in need of quick and painful death.

Like any band with a thirty year career, Metallica has had their highs and lows, but their entire career culminates into a triumph of hard rock and heavy metal excellence – one of the greatest runs on record in rock ‘n’ roll.

I lead readers through their dynamic music of the 1990s and the 21st Century, ending with their new record, Hardwired to Self-Destruct – their best in years.

Throughout the essay, I rely heavily on the interviews I conducted for my 33 1/3 book on the band’s self-titled record, better known as “The Black Album.”

The book, which Consequence of Sound called “a godsend for Metallica fans,” is available at Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.

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New Essay at No Depression: A Jazz-Infused, Twang-Inflected, Southern Rock, Soul Sensation

There is a new sensation in contemporary music. He has arrived in the atmosphere like a full force gale with a sound and fury that is impossible to ignore. His name is Marcus King, and he has assembled a skillful and soulful group of musicians for The Marcus King Band. They move through styles without obedience to categorical regulation of genre; playing with the technical mastery and heartfelt avidity that makes great music great music. His kind has not emerged onto the airwaves for many years.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, music went through an exciting and eclectic period of innovation and variety. The transgression of borders visible and palpable in political and social upheaval underwent artistic emulation in various genres of popular music. The barriers separating these genres began to break. Fusion was the result…

Read the entire essay at No Depression to find out about one of America’s most exciting new bands, The Marcus King Band, and how they fit into the rarefied ranks of Gov’t Mule and The Tedeschi Trucks Band.

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