In this extended interview transcript, conducted at his home and studio near Bloomington, Indiana, singer-songwriter John Mellencamp talks with "Sunday Morning" host (and fellow Hoosier) Jane Pauley about his rebellious adolescence; the creativity behind his music and art; why he continues to smoke; and how his grandmother spoiled him for other women.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: So this is like a vault where all of the tapes, all the records we've made, when everybody used to cut on tape.
JANE PAULEY: You're running out of room.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Good. (laughs) That's good.
JANE PAULEY: There's "Small Town," "Jack & Diane," "Pink Houses."
JOHN MELLENCAMP: So even further back here we would find -- here's "Scarecrow," the album of "Scarecrow." "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."
JANE PAULEY: What was the significance to you of "Scarecrow," to your career, to your life as an artist?
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, it was, you know, the reason we made that record was because we were noticing that the landscape of Indiana is changing. All the small towns were going out of business. Why? Why are all these small towns going out of business? Because everybody went to live in the city? No. It was because that corporate farming had moved in and run the small family farmer out of business. Which is why we started Farm Aid.
JANE PAULEY: Where was that in a transition from your pop rocker days?
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, I had no choice, Jane. I had to have hit records because, you know, the critics in the beginning hated me. Absolutely hated me in New York. There was no place for John Mellencamp in the music business. I had to create my own job and create my own genre, and consequently do what I think they now call Americana.
JANE PAULEY: And I think the critics finally came around.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Yeah. Oh, yeah. They did. But by the time they came around it didn't matter. (laughs) It was too late. It was too late.
JANE PAULEY: That's the way it goes. But seriously, you're running out of room here. You feel like you've got a lot more artistic output to go?
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Oh, sure. There's a lot more to be said and a lot more to be written. Although I do believe there's enough songs written in the world right now for anybody to -- we couldn't listen, sing all of 'em anyway. But the joy of making music and the joy of writing the songs is reward enough for me.
JANE PAULEY: But alas, you can't just do it here from your own studio in Nashville, Indiana. You've gotta go hit the road.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, if you wanna keep the songs alive you do. That's one way of keeping the songs alive, is playing them live. I don't really like repeating myself and playing the same thing over, and over, and over again. But to keep the songs rolling, to try to stay relevant without becoming an oldies act...
JANE PAULEY: But it's gotta be fun when you sing "Jack & Diane" and --
JOHN MELLENCAMP: I don't sing "Jack & Diane." They sing it.
JANE PAULEY: That's what I was getting to. You can stop singing and hundreds and hundreds of people sing it for you. That's gotta be a thrill.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, it's really odd. It's an odd feeling that so many people know a song that you wrote when you were a kid.
JANE PAULEY: Yeah. "Ain't it America."
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Yeah, well, there's a lot of 'em. So I was very fortunate
JANE PAULEY: Well, you worked really hard.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Is there a reward for that? Do I get a crown in Heaven? (laughs)
JANE PAULEY: I don't know why you're asking me! (laughs)
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JANE PAULEY: Where would you rather be than sitting here being interviewed by me, or by anybody else?
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, cards on the table, I don't really like being interviewed. I have talked about myself for 40 years, and I'm just not that interested. I just do certain things and I'm doing the same thing that I did when I was a young guy. I paint, and I write songs, go out and play 'em, and make records. And I've been playing in rock bands since I was 13.
JANE PAULEY: You're right. That's so boring. Not.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: No. It is.
JANE PAULEY: But, you know, I deliberately ask that in hopes that you might say that, 'cause you have said that sometimes before, "I'm not interesting." And I wonder if that is just a little bit of the Hoosier thing that you and I have in common. Because how could you possibly feel interesting? We're not raised to feel interesting here even if you were really interesting.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Well, you're not encouraged to get outside of the box very much here. Particularly during the Reagan years. [For] a young person in Indiana, hopes and dreams were sort of dashed and the fact that you and I both, and a couple of other people that I could name, forged and soldiered on is really surprising to me.
JANE PAULEY: What happened in the Reagan years that was discouraging here?
JOHN MELLENCAMP: How about, like, the whole state went out of business? (laughs) I mean, all the small towns disappeared. Corporate America was taking over all the farming. "Get big or get out" was the motto of the Reagan years. And for a little guy trying to start out or a little girl trying to start out to do something it was not encouraging. I don't think it was very encouraging for young people our age. And if you look at your friends who you grew up with, I think what I just said will justify and solidify that statement.
JANE PAULEY: Never thought of that.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: I just noticed [your] watch and it was, like, "That's a Hermes watch. I know it is."
JANE PAULEY: There's nothing else to look at. This is flea market. (laughs) Okay. Now, see? What I just did was a totally me thing to do that I have come to regard as a Hoosier thing, that may not be blamed on the state of our birth at all. You remark on a nice watch I have. So what do I have to do? I immediately have to balance it by saying "Oh, I got this at a flea market."
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Yeah. Yeah.
JANE PAULEY: Maybe you don't have that problem.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: I don't know. I think that really what that says to me is, Jane doesn't take compliments well.
JANE PAULEY: No. (laughs) She doesn't.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: So you're covering up a compliment by going someplace else.
JANE PAULEY: But I try to be funny about it.
JOHN MELLENCAMP: Yeah, try to be.
JANE PAULEY: Do I get away with it?