JOHN MELLENCAMP – ” The Lonesome Jubilee ” Released 24th August 1987

Posted: August 25, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , ,

On June 18th, 1986, John Mellencamp performed at an unusual venue: the Senate Subcommittee on Agricultural Production and Stabilization of Prices. Still using the Cougar moniker at that time, which an early manager saddled him with, Mellencamp had recently wrapped up touring behind the big blockbuster album “Scarecrow” a clear-eyed look at an America he felt alienated from.

“With Scarecrow, I was finally starting to find my feet as a songwriter,” he wrote in a 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit. “For the first time, I realized what I thought I wanted to say in song. … I wanted it to be more akin to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner.

With the simple, Steinbeckian tunes of Scarecrow fresh in his mind, Mellencamp came to Washington, D.C., with fellow Farm Aid activist Willie Nelson to testify in support of the Family Farm bill sponsored by Democrat senator Tom Harkin from Iowa. In a few short years, Mellencamp went from singing “When I fight authority, authority always wins” to facing the nation’s mightiest authority.

“In Seymour, Ind., the town I grew up in, there used to be a John Deere dealership. It is no longer there,” he told the Senate committee. “When I am out on tour and I am talking to people, they are afraid. Their vision of the future is, ‘What is going to happen to my children in 20 years when, all of a sudden, three farmers are farming the state of Indiana and they also own all the food-processing plants?’”

“It seems funny and peculiar,” he added as the opposition against Harkin’s bill began to file out of the room. “After my shows and after Willie’s shows, people come up to us for advice. It is because they have got nobody to turn to.”

Most of Scarecrow mined deeply personal stories — “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Small Town,” “Minutes to Memories.” But his work with Nelson and Farm Aid, and his growing connection to the national consciousness, turned his eye from personal to public pain as he penned songs for the follow-up album, The Lonesome Jubilee.

Released on August. 24th, 1987, a year after his Senate testimony, The Lonesome Jubilee became another Mellencamp blockbuster. It went triple platinum and spun out two Top 10 hits in “Paper in Fire” and “Cherry Bomb.” But today fans remember the album not as a pair of hits surrounded by album cuts, but as the singer’s most unified thematic and sonic vision. The Lonesome Jubilee is the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, credited as John Cougar Mellencamp. The album was released by Mercury Records. 

Lyrically, The Lonesome Jubilee took on unemployment, poverty, homelessness, xenophobia, racism and the heavy burden of disillusionment Mellencamp saw weighing down his generation. The pain and contemplation show right there in the song titles: “We Are the People,” “Empty Hands,” “The Real Life,” “Down and Out in Paradise,” “Hard Times for an Honest Man.”

The album’s thesis statement came together in the lyrics of the opening track “Paper in Fire”: “There is a good life right across this green field/And each generation stares at it from afar/But we keep no check on our appetites/So the green fields turn to brown like paper in fire.”

The song burns with an intense energy while stinking of ache and angst. Even the famously cantankerous Mellencamp admitted it was an achievement. “After Scarecrow, the critics all kinda went, ‘Whoa, now we gotta pay attention to this guy,’” . “I think ‘Paper in Fire’ is the ultimate John Mellencamp song. I wasn’t trying to be on the radio anymore. Radio was on my side. There wasn’t any Woody Guthrie influence. There wasn’t any Rolling Stones influence. There wasn’t a Bob Dylan influence. I made the decision, much to everyone’s dismay, to use violins and accordions, and incorporate an Appalachian sound of original country. I tried to figure out how to make that work in rock ‘n’ roll.” “We were on the road for a long time after Scarecrow, so we were together a lot as a band,” Mellencamp said in a 1987 Creem Magazine feature. “For the first time ever, we talked about the record before we started. We had a very distinct vision of what should be happening here. At one point, The Lonesome Jubilee was supposed to be a double album, but at least 10 of the songs I’d written just didn’t stick together with the idea and the sound we had in mind. So I just put those songs on a shelf, and cut it back down to a single record. Now, in the past, it was always ‘Let’s make it up as we go along’ – and we did make some of The Lonesome Jubilee up as we went along. But we had a very clear idea of what we wanted it to sound like, even before it was written, right through to the day it was mastered.

Despite the themes, the album isn’t a sermon. Mellencamp’s words don’t come with solutions, or even wisdom. Instead, they just chronicle the mess and occasional but sustaining joys of life. While a big chunk of the album has the singer using his voice to speak for others — parents struggling to feed their families, but between the not-so-beautiful losers Mellencamp inserts his own stories. “Cherry Bomb” may be the most personal song he’s ever written.

The Band 

  • John Mellencamp – vocal, guitar
  • Kenny Aronoff – drums, percussion, backing vocals
  • Larry Crane – guitars, mandolin, harmonica, autoharp, banjo, backing vocals
  • John Cascella – accordion, keyboards, saxophone, melodica, penny whistle, claves
  • Lisa Germano – fiddle
  • Toby Myers – bass guitar, banjo, backing vocals
  • Pat Peterson – backing vocals, cowbell, tambourine
  • Crystal Taliefero – backing vocals
  • Mike Wanchic – guitars, dobro, banjo, dulcimer, backing vocals
  1. earthbalm says:

    It was a brilliant album, used to play it repeatedly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.