David Masciotra evokes the complex politics of John Mellencamp, a man of the left shaped by small-town life in Indiana:
John Mellencamp is not a Republican. He is a self-avowed liberal—but his is a community-based leftism that distrusts bureaucracy and hates paternalism, yet believes in social assistance for the poor, sick, and hungry, the widows and orphans that the Bible identifies. Mellencamp inhabits common ground with libertarians on social issues, and he is a consistent opponent of war and foreign intervention, but he does not believe that an unfettered free market will solve every social problem.
He has watched the corporate conquest of family farms and sings about it on the angry lament, “Rain on the Scarecrow.” He has witnessed how after decades of politicians relegating poverty relief to an inefficient welfare state or indifferent corporate state, poor men, women, and children have become collateral damage, and he sings about it on the heartbreaking “Jackie Brown,” the story of a desperately impoverished man who commits suicide.
He has seen the wreckage that a market-driven, money-obsessed, and materially measured culture has piled up in place of the small communities he cherishes, and he measures the damage in “Ghost Towns Along the Highway.” The mode of American life that prioritizes mobility above all and instructs the young to conduct themselves in a constant search for the next big thing has created generations whose “love keeps on moving to the nearest faraway place.” In “The West End,” he sings of a dying neighborhood and in a powerful turn of phrase manages to capture and condemn decades of destructive policies from big government and big business: “It sure has changed here since I was a kid / It’s worse now / Look what progress did.”