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.

David Masciotra John Mellencamp

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.”

Stop Blaming Identity Politics for the Problems of White Bias and Blindness

Are white people responsible for anything? In my new essay at Salon, I break with American tradition by answering, “yes.”

Read my column on the idiocy of blaming liberal identity politics for the election of Donald Trump, and how it relates to perpetual denial of white responsibility of everything from rural poverty to heroin addiction, at Salon.

Republicans are Divorced from Reality

In my latest column for Salon, I examine how Republicans in government are incapable of governance. After having spent years mocking liberals as overly ideological, naive, and unable to make difficult decisions, conservatives have now drifted so far to the fringes of the right that they cannot implement or administer public policy.

The fiasco of health care reform is an illustrative example of Republican ineptitude.

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: Donald Trump’s Idiotic Addiction to Television

In my new column at Salon, I explore the terrifying possibility that Donald Trump is not an insincere conman, but that he is genuinely paranoid, stupid, and delusional. The power of propaganda, from the right wing, has steadily warped the minds of millions of Americans. It appears that Trump is one of them. Imagine your crazy uncle as the most powerful man in the universe.

Read the column at Salon.

New Column at Salon: The Fiery Racial Gospel of Michael Eric Dyson

I began devouring Michael Eric Dyson’s work as a high school student, eager to learn about the world, and study the craft of essayistic writing. He quickly became inspirational and foundational to my intellectual and literary development. It is difficult to conceive of myself as a thinker and writer without the influence of Dyson.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Dyson during the Chicago stop on his book tour. We discussed a new book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, along with a wide range of issues pertaining to race, culture, and politics.

In my new column for Salon, I appraise the high value of Dyson’s analysis and rhetorical style, and offer some of the most provocative and poignant excerpts from our conversation.

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New Column at Salon: My College Students aren’t ‘Snowflakes’ – They are Tougher than their Critics

In my new column for Salon, I ridicule the sanctimonious and cowardly baby boomers who refuse to surrender their favorite hobby – demeaning young people.

My years of teaching experience at the college level have allowed me to meet many different students. I consistently find them smart, strong, and even inspiring. Studies of campus life demonstrate that “trigger warning,” “safe spaces,” and tantrums of “political correctness,” are actually quite rare, despite the alternative reality that boomers, and right wing media commentators, have invented.

I’ve had students who have survived cancer, recovered from the unexpected death of family members, lost their homes in natural disasters, and continue to work and study in the pursuit happiness, even while they suffer a financial burden for their education that previous generations never shouldered.

They are tougher, and better for the country, than their critics.

Read the column at Salon.

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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New Column at Salon: The Right Wing Bubble

In my latest column for Salon, I address the boring bromide, in constant broadcast since the surreal victory of Donald Trump, that liberal Americans live in a bubble, rendering them unable to access reality or relate to the “real America.”

Logic and reason, as antiquated as they might be, demonstrate that it is actually the “real America” living in a closed-minded cocoon. An excerpt from my column:

When was the last time any mainstream commentator suggested that the rural, white Christian conservative Sunday School teacher escape her bubble, and befriend a group of black lesbians? Can anyone recall ridicule of a right wing, suburban housepainter who believes God watches his every brushstroke for not attending a public lecture from an award winning evolutionary biologist?

The absence of any criticism against the conservative bubble, which is undeniably smaller and tighter that the liberal bubble, demonstrates that American culture has condescended to the conservative with, to resurrect an old George W. Bush chestnut, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

No one reasonable really expects the right wing Christian conservative to escape their own cocoon. People who applaud when a political candidate proposes banning Muslims from entering the country know nothing about Islam. Voters who support someone who called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs,” probably never knowingly met a Latino who emigrated from Mexico. The conservative bubble of bigotry and ignorance actually damages the country, and results in destructive public policy, while the liberal bubble results in nothing more that slightly damaged feelings. Insulated progressives might adopt snobbery when considering the daily routine of “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” but they actively support political leaders who aim to alleviate poverty. The rural whites who “cling to their guns and religion,” as President Barack Obama rightly said, benefit when the liberals they hate enter high office. One of the interesting numbers to track after Trump’s inauguration is how many poor white people lose access to health care if the President-Elect keeps his promise to “repeal Obamacare.”

 The coating of the conservative bubble is often so dense that it prevents inhabitants from accurately identifying their own interests.

Read the entire column at Salon.