John Mellencamp Blames Ronald Reagan for Ruining the Music Biz

While Time magazine honors Arianna Huffington as the Oracle of the Internet, anyone reading The Huffington Post knows it’s still a salon for liberal celebrities to channel their own self-involved conspiracy theories about how conservatism is ruining the world, and especially the world of the Artist. In a rant posted on Sunday night, '80s rock star John Mellencamp unfurled the theory that Ronald Reagan ruined the music business, and now it’s somehow impossible for musicians and bands to "percolate up" from the street:

Reagan's much-vaunted trickle-down theory said that wealth tricked down [sic] to the masses from the elite at the top. Now we've found out that this is patently untrue -- the current economic collapse reflects this self-serving folly. The same holds for music. It doesn't trickle down; it percolates up from the artists, from word of mouth, from the streets and rises up to the general populace. Constrained by the workings of SoundScan/BDS [Broadcast Data Systems], music now came from the top and was rammed down people's throats....

Sadly, these days, it's really a matter of "every man for himself." In terms of possibilities, we are but an echo of what we once were. Of course, the artist does not want to "sell out to The Man." Left with no real choice except that business model of greed and the bean counting mentality that Reagan propagated and the country embraced, there is only "The Man" to deal with. There is no street for the music to rise up from. There is no time for the music to develop in a natural way that we can all embrace when it ripens and matures. That's why the general public doesn't really care. It's not that the people don't still love music; of course they do. It's just the way it is presented to them that ignores their humanity.

Fractions of Mellencamp’s analysis can make some sense to music lovers. The "Wall Streeting" conglomeration of the entertainment industry can certainly make the music business seem like a faceless mass that values profit over art. But certainly, Mellencamp doesn’t want to try and argue that the music business didn’t value profits first before Ronald Reagan was president. He certainly can’t begin to capture the irony of a profits-first music industry making millions of dollars off drug-fueled left-wing hippie music in the 1960s and 1970s.

But his next interviewer should ask: If Reagan was such a menace to the authentic musician of the streets, how did Mellencamp’s career somehow take off in the Reagan years?

Some of the paragraphs in Mellencamp’s Huff-Post rant sounded like a man who’s quickly approaching sixty, including an odd attack on the Compact Disc Conspiracy:

The CD, it should be noted, was born out of greed. It was devised to prop up record sales on the expectation of people replenishing their record collections with CDs of albums they had already purchased. They used to call this "planned obsolesce" [sic] in the car business. Sound quality was supposed to be one of the big selling points for CDs but, as we know, it wasn't very good at all. It was just another con, a get-rich-quick scheme, a monumental hoax perpetrated on the music consuming public.

If this is all true, does Mellencamp also lament the Cassette Tape Conspiracy, and the Eight-Track Tape Conspiracy? Don't get him started about the i-Pod.

Mellencamp snobbily associates the corporate music executive with cheese, like Mariah Carey and the "Monster Mash." The Artists are great, and should not have to consort with business people and their pedestrian ways:

Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, once told me a story about a reception she was at where Bob Dylan was in attendance. The business people there were quietly commenting on how unsociable Dylan seemed to them, not what they imagined an encounter with Dylan would be like. When that observation about Dylan's behavior and disposition were mentioned to Nora, the response was very profound. She said that Bob Dylan was not put on this earth to participate in cocktail chatter with strangers. Bob Dylan's purpose in life is to write great songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A' Changin'." This sort of sums it all up for me. The artist is here to give the listener the opportunity to dream, a very profound and special gift even if he's minimally successful. If the artist only entertains you for three and a half minutes, it's something for which thanks should be given. Consider how enriched all of our lives are made by songs from "Like A Rolling Stone," a masterpiece, to "The Monster Mash," a trifle by comparison.

This, from the man who sang "Hurts So Good."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis