21st Century composer John Cougar-Mellencamp isn’t in Kansas anymore.

Don’t think I’ve ever had a particularly bad or negative impression of John Cougar-Mellencamp. His early musical endeavors were pretty okay, I guess… I was a teenager through the birth and heyday of MTV, so of fucking course I can recite “Ain’t that America” word for word upon request and not miss a single lyric right up to “uh.”

Johnny Cougar was an act made possible by the good people at MTV, who shaped a generation by telling us what’s really fucking awesome to like. One such thing was an upstart, ragtag authority fighter “go find me a young Springsteen or don’t fucking bother coming back” type with the bright-eyed naivety of some mid-western townie everyone thinks is a really great guy. But/and/only he really is a really great guy…

A really great and cool enough guy that can rock a bandanna around his neck and no one says he looks ridiculous behind his back like they do Axl Rose, because frankly Axl Rose seems like a fucking douche.

In sharp contrast to other neck bandanna wearing singers like Rose, the singer from Def Leppard, the guitar player from Def Leppard (the blonde guy, not the other guy), Mike Reno, et. al… Johnny Cougar never seems like a fucking douche. He’s just the opposite – seems more like a real down to earth, genuinely decent human being.

The sort of guy who would respectfully and politely respond to a couple of strippers who want to get with him by suggesting the three of them just “walk around all day long.”

 

As a matter of fact, Johnny Cougar has always been considered to be such a real down to earth, genuinely decent human being that he’s the reason people started tying bandannas around dogs’ necks… this is because Johnny Cougar has also always been considered so noble and so loyal that he was (and probably still is) referred to and spoken of in certain circles as “Man’s Best Friend.”

Also, I just made a fuckload of money for referencing Mike Reno.

Note: both Reno and Rose began their respective head shot model careers as neck bandanna wearers, however as both developed complications with throat polyps due to strained, repeated caterwauling attempts at singing like Carol Channing, both were under medical advice to wear the accessories on their foreheads.

BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT IS COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS “HEAD VOICE.”

Look, I’m sorry. Just… take a look at the necks on both of these guys nowadays – they’re fucking massive.

So anyway, and speaking of massive, another thing that MTV told us was really fucking awesome was large benefit concerts like Live Aid – which essentially they were right about, however sometimes I don’t think them to have been entirely honest regarding their motivations. Nevertheless, whatever MTV’s benefit from Woodstock recreations featuring the heavy drumming of Phil Collins playing the dramatic fill from “In the Air Tonight” it made people do some pretty decent stuff for others, and ushered the way for other eye-opening 1980s revelations, such as life really fucking sucks for some people, so if you’re just going to sit on the sofa watching music videos and softcore cable porn or whatever, at least try and let that sink in.

Probably didn’t, but the kids watched all the concerts.

John Cougar-Mellencamp’s offering to the helpin’ out of likewise decent folks with rockin’ tunes…

And probably a whole lotta coke and barbiturates, but it’s for charity and we’re artists – was FarmAid; in which he proved himself the hometown humble and heroic Clark Kent type… the type who gives back by using his immense power by helpin’ out likewise genuinely decent folks with rockin’ tunes and well – maybe just walking around…

ALL DAY LONG.

 

But don’t think for one R-O-C-K in the USA second that the philanthropy of John Cougar-Mellencamp ends there:

Dude even used the man at MTV to give away a house at some point.

 

But of what matter is motivation if outcome is beneficial to others? Who really cares if obviously the motive for MTV was getting to call it a party house? Johnny Cougar fucking gave a chick a fucking house. That’s what’s up with that. Tragically enough, probably also the beginning of the ideas factory at MTV thinking about the already waning popularity of music videos and thinking about living in the Real World – where people stop being nice, and start being [don’t remember/don’t care].

 

So we’re good with backstory, right? Really hope so, because now begs the answer to the question of, “sooo what precisely is this new pinnacle of achievement that John Cougar-Mellencamp has attained?”

Why, I’d be very happy to tell you: at some point where no one was paying attention, The Artist Formerly Known As Johnny Cougar made the jump from being a “competent” – no, make that “adequate” songwriter – to the rank of fucking maestro. Because apparently at some point when nobody was paying attention, The Artist Formerly Known As Johnny Cougar done went and wrote hisself a right formal fucking comp-o-sit-ion.

That’s right, I’m late to the party; this thing’s five years old already. But really now, was anyone else paying attention there, for reals? I think not.

Listen up; Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a musical…

(excuse me for a second please)

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a rock opera written mostly by Mellencamp around a story written by Stephen King, plus some other added street cred/direction/whatever, blah blah, etc., from T- Bone Burnett – whom I at first thought was the guy who sang the Mister Belvedere theme. But I was wrong.

Anyway, to whomever can get more than five seconds to omg I just can’t  into this… whatever this is: I salute you for your heart, for your soul, and for your courage.

 

Apparently a direct to late night drunken Netflix/Hulu movie binge version of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County was made, but I don’t remember hearing anything about it… I stumbled upon the soundtrack here on a late night iTunes binge, myself. I don’t remember being drunken, but it was a kind of odd selection of songs for me to have actually purchased.  This work features the likes of Cheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Mellencamp himself…

And this pretty sweet number performed by the goddess of music that might well be from Kansas – or Canada, or Vermont IDK herself, Miss Neko Case.

 

Ah, see; now I remember… I was looking for stuff on said binge that I’ve never heard in anticipation of Hell-On, which is Miss Case’s newest effort, which is two months away from release.

And fuck it, here’s a plug for Holy Miss Neko.

 

A lot of the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County soundtrack is overly-compressed Matchbox Twenty/alt country flat and white as shit boring production, but the songwriting really is great – and besides, it’s artists like Neko Case who just fucking shine no matter what… she’s a songwriter herself, and here she does great respect and justice to another songwriter’s having put his faith in her giving an amazing performance and doing his songs justice. Same goes for Costello, Crow, and even Burnett. But the biggest coup by far for John Cougar-Mellencamp, my friends… is this:

HOW MANY SONGWRITERS CAN SAY THAT KRIS FUCKING KRISTOFFERSON HAS PERFORMED THEIR MATERIAL?

 

Yeah, I’d wager not very many. Whenever I think “songwriter” Kris Kristofferson is right up there with Charles Ives, Woody Guthrie, RANDY NEWMAN — Kristofferson is the fucking eponym of songwriter. Nice going, Johnny – you have truly arrived.

(Also, zut alors mothafuckaz.)

Here we have the guy who wrote “Me and Bobbie McGhee” performing the work of the guy who wrote “Jack and Diane” like the consummate professional he is…

and it’s FUCK. KING. GREAT.

 

Not only that, but Kristofferson has two tracks on this album. It’s like one day Man’s Best Friend Johnny Cougar paid his dues, endured the pain of rebirth from the cold, hard oblivion of obscurity, and came out swinging like the woke as fuck composer/songwriter he now is.

Once upon a time, a boy from America’s heartland got swept up by the cyclone of 1980s glitz and image and went to the Wizard of MTV and some label PR team for guidance on how to get his message across, for it was missing something: a hook, a punch… something that says “badass motherfucker” to listeners. And the Great and Powerful MTV had spoken:

“PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE COUGAR-MELLENCAMP BEHIND THAT CURTAIN. PLUS ALSO, HE SHALL HENCEFORTH BE KNOWN AS JOHNNY COUGAR.”

But our hero also found that he’d been seeking that which, much like the humble scarecrow, he already had to begin with. So he used his newly discovered brain to take back his name… and the world soon came to know and respect the dignified family crest of “Cougar-Mellencamp.”

Hey, everyone knows that if you got two last names, you are most likely, if not definitely a composer. So here we arrive at the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County: the first great work of twenty-first century composer John Cougar-Mellencamp, the lionhearted conqueror who remains humble like the scarecrow, caring if only in want for being caring as the hollow tin man, and is likewise accompanied by two companions on the golden road to once again perhaps being considered relevant:

Empty, heartless douchebag Stephen King.

Who could never seem to get enough of callously milking things he’s already made a fuckload of money from, and more recently/more heartlessly exploiting imagery associated with deeply-embedded childhood fears in order to coldly turn a dollar and justifying it by saying he doesn’t like Donald Drumpf very much or whatever


And next, I always confuse T-Bone Burnett with Leon Redbone, because duh… so I’m just going to say it was Redbone so I can once again reference the Wizard of Oz in order to get a cheap laugh; add another reference to some dude in a cat outfit in order to get a cheap laugh at the expense (and existence) of Andrew Lloyd Webber…

And finally, in order to get a cheap laugh at the expense of a cat (Redbone) who’s certainly not too much of a coward to not sing like a goddamn jackass.

 

Oh yeah, that’s right. John Cougar-Mellencamp has truly arrived… and he’s utterly earned, and is utterly within his right to spit in the face of the Great and Powerful MTV and triumphantly say:

“Brain on the scarecrow, bitches… sorry I dropped a little pink house on your sister.”

P.S. (The part of Dorothy was played by Miss Neko Case.)

Pariah Jones

BA Psychology and BA Philosophy. Fairly useless degrees, but my education has bettered my ability to analyze people’s behaviors and describe them in flowery metaphors.

I play the banjo too. Maybe I just like being annoying.