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.”

A Review of Richard Ford’s Memoir, and an Essay on Parents

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.

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Hillary Hatred Exposed

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.

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What is a “factoid”? How a misunderstood word explains Trump

In his masterful blend of biography and novel, Marilyn, Norman Mailer invented the word “factoid” to describe untrue ideas many people accept as real only because they have appeared in the mass media for many years. “It is possible,” Mailer wrote, “that Richard Nixon has spoken in nothing but factoids for his entire political career.”

Donald Trump, like no other president of American history (not even Nixon), is a factoid politician.

Read my essay on factoids and Trump at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: Jim Harrison’s Blueprint for Pleasure

In my new column at Salon, I continue to explore my love and enthusiasm for the magnificent work of the late and great Jim Harrison.

Harrison’s new book, a posthumous collection of essays on food, wine, pleasure, and art, acts as a manifesto for Epicurean hedonism. It is a joy to read, but also subversive in a largely Puritanical culture.

Read the column.

I have previously written about Harrison for Salon, the Daily Beast, and this website. Read my past essays.

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New Column at Salon: Donald Trump and The Hobbling of Shame – David Foster Wallace Warned Us about Reality TV

In my new column for Salon, I examine how entertainment values have corrupted the American political process, comparing Donald Trump to a pro wrestling character, and his admirers to frenzied WWE fans. The corrosion of civic virtues in the name of entertainment vices began long before Trump’s entrance into politics, but the new president-elect represents the culmination of it.

The late David Foster Wallace, one of America’s great writers, was obsessed with America’s addiction to entertainment, and how it would make the country weaker and dumber. His prophetic wisdom makes for the perfect predicate to my analysis of the presidential election circus.

Read the entire essay at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: America’s Empty Culture of Hustling in the Age of Trump

In my newest column for Salon, I use the recent footage of Mitt Romney devouring his own soul for the amusement of Donald Trump as a predicate to examine America’s destructive culture of hustling. Historian Morris Berman has argued that hustling is all that occupies the center of the United States, and because hustling is philosophically and ethically empty, it has led to irreversible decline throughout the country.

The election of Donald Trump is the political manifestation of the hustling culture.

Read the column at Salon.

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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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Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.

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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