Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Mellencamp Principle of Pessimism

[ NOTE: This is a repost of an item originally posted on the now-defunct Its original date was July 13, 2007. ]

I recently read a web page (which I refuse to link to) by a semi-successful actor that essentially told all aspiring actors not to attempt an acting career. Don't move to L.A., don't move to New York. It will never happen for you. You will be miserable, you will never get famous or even recognized, it's completely hopeless, don't waste your time or energy.

This scenario qualifies under what I call The Mellencamp Principle of Pessimism.

The Mellencamp Principle refers, of course, to the successful singer-songwriter(-actor) John "Cougar" Mellencamp. In short, it's when someone has worked hard and triumphantly achieved his or her goals, then proceeds to spread the word about how achieving said goals is an impossibility for everybody else.

The bulk of Mellencamp's popular work is focused on Americana. Real Heartland stuff. The blue collar working man, driving a Ford truck, trying to carve out a decent life for his wife and kids. The inevitable conclusions to these songs are that things will always fall short of The Dream.

Now, I've seen enough episodes of "Behind the Music" to know that, even when people are at the peak of their success, they can still be tormented by personal demons. But even in your most depressive state, when you're John Mellencamp, don't you have to acknowledge that you've achieved a certain amount of something? Even if you're thinking to yourself, "I suck, I'm a fraud," objectively, you know that you're rich and famous, and you got that way by doing exactly what you wanted to do: writing and singing songs.

So why did some of his most popular songs always end up being about failure and despair?

"Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone."

"Just like everything else, those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went."

"I fight authority, authority always wins."

"My job is so small town, provides little opportunity ... Used to daydream in that small town; another boring romantic that's me."

Even the title of his greatest hits CD is "The Best That I Could Do." In other words, "I guess I did all these records, and I guess some people liked some of these songs. So here it is, if you consider any of this good." Whatever, dude. I'm supposed to believe life was never exciting for John Mellencamp? His crazy, boring, romantic daydreams never came true? And he just can't seem to win?

Poor guy.

Some might argue that a lot of these songs aren't necessarily a reflection of his own beliefs and experiences, but that he's singing in character. He's singing for us, the Common Man. Well, in that case, he's a condescending asshole. "I may be rich and famous and doing what I always wanted to be doing, but 'I feel your pain.'"

Look, I don't mean to be too hard on Mister Mellencamp. If I didn't enjoy his music in the first place, I wouldn't have been able to formulate the Mellencamp Principle. (I'm the proud owner of a copy of the "Maybe You Liked Some of These Songs, But I Don't Understand Why You Would" CD.)

All I'm saying is, people who have "made it" ought to occasionally have some words of encouragement for other people. I would understand if, on a case-by-case basis, John Mellencamp met some wannabe rockers and determined that they didn't have what it takes to make it. But if you're going to make a blanket statement, don't you kinda have to admit that if you did it, other people can too?

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