Yesterday, I caught an interview (taped March 31, 2009) with John Cougar Mellencamp on National Public Radio in which he talks about how he was raised in the Church of the Nazarene. My brother shared this fact with me several years ago, but I had totally forgotten about it. The Nazarene church is the church of our childhoods. Several former and current Nazarenes follow this blog, so I wanted to post this.
It’s interesting in a funny kind of way to realize that during the same years I was growing up in the Heartland attending rural Nazarene churches and listening to Jack and Diane, the very cute guy singing it had been a Nazarene kid just like me. I so would have had a crush on him at church camp. Life Goes On, a line frequently repeated in Jack and Diane, was the theme of my sophomore yearbook (1983).
In 1986, while attending college in the big city, Mellencamp’s song Smalltown became an instant favorite, and this line still resonates with me:
In 2013, Mellencamp was interviewed by the American Conservative. Here is an excerpt:
Mellencamp was raised in the Nazarene Church and left when he was 16 because, as he tells it, “They said, ‘no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, and girls can’t wear make up.’ And I said, ‘That doesn’t sound like much fun’.”
He might have left the church of his childhood, but he never fully left the faith. The image and name of Jesus hovers over Mellencamp’s music. He often performs on stage with a white porcelain statue of Jesus in front of his amplifier. A painting of Jesus hangs over a jukebox on the album jacket for his best record, “The Lonesome Jubilee,” and he invokes Christ’s teachings in many of his songs, from some of his biggest hits to some of his most obscure album cuts. On “Jack and Diane,” his only number one single, he combines both of his belief systems into a visceral prayer: “So let it rock / Let it roll / Let the Bible Belt come and save my soul…”