John Mellencamp stands up to the National Organization of Marriage
In may ways this goes along with a post I wrote earlier in the week about the public’s seeming inability to see past a song’s surface and to label it as something that it isn’t simply because of a chorus or a few words. That is why “Sweet Home Alabama” is now every racist’s theme song rather than being seen as an attack on Alabama Governor George Wallace. That is why President Reagan fell in love with “Born in the U.S.A.” It is why “Fortunate Son,” the greatest protest song ever written and perhaps even the best record in rock history, has been misconstrued as an anthem about “waving the flag.”
John Mellencamp has had to deal with many such misinterpretations of his material over the years. John has made it very clear throughout his career that he fights authority whether in the numerous 1980s songs where he exposed the dark underbelly of the “Reagan revolution,” or his protests of the Iraq War that were among the first by a popular entertainer, his head-to-head battles with his (former) record label over the issue of race, or by helping protect small family farmers from corporate factory farms. And unlike most of today’s stars who really don’t care how their music is used as long as they are making money and gaining exposure from it, John does care and is willing to stand up to his song’s abusers. (To be fair, there was that brief episode with Chevrolet, but he’s learned from his mistake and released two of his best albums since then.)
In 2008, the Washington Post reported the following:
Die-hard Democrat John Mellencamp wasn’t asking John McCain to stop playing his songs at campaign rallies — just trying to, you know, shame him a little. And, hey, it seems to have worked!
In an e-mail this week to campaign manager Rick Davis , Mellencamp’s publicist suggested McCain should find the singer’s rousing classic-rockers like “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” to be an “embarrassment.”
“Mr. Mellencamp identifies very strongly with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and was supportive (with these same songs!) of the candidacy of John Edward . . .” wrote the singer’s rep, Bob Merlis, adding that wife Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp was a delegate at the ’04 Democratic convention. “Are you sure you want to use his music to promote Senator McCain’s efforts?”
Asked about the Mellencamp oeuvre, a McCain rep told our colleague Juliet Eilperin: “We’re not playing it anymore.”
Now John is speaking out again, sending the following statement through his publicist (reprinted here by permission) to the hate-mongering group known as the National Organization of Marriage after they played “Pink Houses” at one of their rallies.
I am getting in touch with you on behalf of my client John Mellencamp who has become aware that his music (“Pink Houses”) has been used at events sponsored by your organization. Please be aware that Mr. Mellencamp’s views on same sex marriage and equal rights for people of all sexual orientations are at odds with NOM’s stated agenda.
Back in 2008, we pointed out to the McCain-Palin campaign that their use of Mr. Mellencamp’s music in campaign events was puzzling in light of Mellencamp’s own political views which were, largely, in opposition to those of these candidates. Immediately after we sent notice to campaign manager Rick Davis, the McCain campaign had the good sense to stop the use of Mellencamp’s music at their events. There’s an article about this from the Washington Post that I’ve pasted below.
We would encourage you to find music from a source more in harmony with your views than Mr. Mellencamp in the future.
Something like this is almost unheard of in modern times. Sure, Lou Reed did block Susan Boyle from singing one of his tunes on America’s Got Talent, but do you honestly think that most classic rock bands care what products their song is selling as long as they keep getting the royalty checks?
Better yet, John used his opportunity to speak out on perhaps the most important issue in today’s society: whether or not all of us can be free or, in other words, whether or not several of my friends have the same right to marry and serve in the military that John and I have.
In his 2008 song “Young Without Lovers,” John included the line “Let the people have the right to be different” and from the first listen my thoughts were that he was referring to the homophobia that plagues many areas of the Midwest and probably the entire country. I would encourage John to speak out even more on this issue. Despite all of his well-known political positions, everybody seems to like him. Hell, even conservatives apparently can’t get enough of his music.
In 1963, two white folk singers named Bob Dylan and Joan Baez sang at the March on Washington. Even prior to that, Pete Seeger had been performing at black churches, meetings, and rallys throughout the South, singing “We Shall Overcome” among other tunes. Blues singers had been exposing these same hardships for years, but the rest of us only tuned in when somebody like us was informing us of the problem because the truth is that most of us don’t care. The old adage about how “first they came for the Jews” holds up time and time again.
I respect what artists like Elton John and Lady GaGa are doing to illuminate these issues (even if I don’t respect GaGa’s music), but they aren’t going to cut it. Middle America isn’t going to wake up to the fact that this is indeed an issue of Civil Rights until they see somebody like them singing at the rallies.
John, how about you help some of my friends out?