Sunday, February 10, 2019


Is there a more archetypal US couple than Jack and Diane? Well, of course, the answer is an unreserved yes, but, ignoring that, this couple have maintained an ongoing virtual life, come what may, in the nearly 37 years since John Mellencamp brought them first to our attention. Hell, he wasn't even John Mellencamp then, being still the John Cougar some manager thought sounded cooler than his given name. But ain't it a great song?

The song very nearly didn't make it, Mellencamp having dumped it, being unable to get his band to give the accompaninent he heard it as needing. It took Mick Ronson, yes that Mick Ronson, to insist he give it another crack, this time with Ronson on additional guitar. The iconic hand claps shouldn't even be there, being initially just part of the click track to facilitate the arrangement. But it just sounded better with than without. And should you still be pondering the Ronno/Mellencamp linkage, most odd in retrospect, the Spider from Mars and the midwest journeyman roots artist, remember then that John, then Johnny, Cougar was being pushed as a slightly Bowie-esque retro-rocker in the mid 70s, and that the aforementioned manager was Tony DeFries, the famous main man of MainMan, who also looked after Bowie. Anyhow, this song was many years after the DeFries management, but I am sure that's where the pair of them first met. Ronson subsequently invented himself as a go-to guitarist for anyone from Bob Dylan to Ian Hunter, ditching the spandex and stack heels along the way, whilst DeFries ditched Cougar to the no lesser delights of Rod Stewart's management team and Billy Gaff.

The song did well. Number 1 in 1982 for 4 weeks, still his biggest hit. It has also given birth to a number of references across music and film, as the names Jack and Diane have almost come to be generic of just about any young couple in their struggle to stay together. It was certainly the first I had heard of the artist, his earlier US hits having failed to translate across this pond. And I heard no more of him for some time, despite ongoing success in the US. I guess my tastes had always been a tad rootsier than the charts, and I was developing a taste for Steve Earle, as he ploughed his country into a rock furrow. What I didn't know was that (by now named) John Cougar Mellencamp was traversing the opposite direction, in 1987 they each perhaps halfway in the transition. Earle produced 'Guitar Town' in 86 and, a year later, Mellencamp produced 'The Lonesome Jubilee', still, for me, his masterpiece.

Of course he has made many a record since then, most of it in a similar vein, much of it to a high standard. A heart attack slowed him a little in the 90s, yet ironically boosted his status. By his return to performance he was being greeted as a similar icon to the working man as Springsteen, and would appear on stage with the Bob Dylans, Willie Nelsons and Neil Youngs of this world. And so he has continued, increasingly a politicised performer, albeit with views fairly constantly to the left of centre, no small critic of the current regime. (Indeed, I hadn't realised until this day that he was, in fact, one of the founding fathers, with Young and Nelson, of Farm Aid.)

So what of Jack and Diane? Well, they made a (brief) reappearance in the 1998 song, 'Eden is Burning', but the song is, presumably, so allegorical as to give no personal update. But I'll bet he worries who they voted for, last time around. But he still plays it.


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