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John Mellencamp and the Church of the Nazarene

John MellencampYesterday, 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:

Educated in a smalltown
Taught to fear Jesus in a smalltown…
When Terry Gross asked Mellencamp what it was like being raised in the Nazarene church he said with all sincerity that it was like “heaven,” and he talked with great affection for his grandmother, the person responsible for taking him to church every Sunday.


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…”

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. le @ thirdontheright

    ohhh so loved JCM … lots of driving time was filled with his songs … no suprise to be he had this kind of childhood – it shows in a good way I think 🙂 le

  2. Jim Smith

    I didn’t know he was brought up Nazarene, but like you his lyrics clearly match my exerience. “Taught to fear Jesus in a small town” is one of my favorite lyrics.

    Great Post

  3. jenX

    @YOGI – As I understand, he writes all his own stuff. I love that.

    @KATHLEEN – Very true. It never leaves you. Thank you for leaving this comment.

    @CGDK – Lucky you that you got to attend his concerts. One of my regrets in life is that I didn’t go to more concerts.

    @FRIAR – Thanks for stopping by. I hope you stick around!

  4. Friar

    Nice post; I bought that Mellencamp album before I left for senior year of college and it’s stayed one of my favorites.

    Neat blog; I just found it and I’m enjoying exploring it.

  5. CGDK

    ahh yes he was a cute guy with great songs….and his concerts were loud and wonderful. How nice that he looks back on any part of his life as heaven.

  6. Kathleen

    If you attended the Nazarene church as a kid but left it for some reason later on, no matter where life takes you, the Nazarene church of your youth never leaves you. Just thinking about those days of my youth are like coming home.

    JM hit the nail on the head when he said it was like heaven. Nothing comes closer to that than being raised in the Church of the Nazarene.

  7. Yogi♪♪♪

    I was never a big Mellencamp fan but I loved that song and the lines you mention.

    His more recent stuff is very interesting. Not very popular yet though.

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