John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” heading to Broadway


Hoosier rocker John Mellencamp is an accomplished musician. With a string of hits throughout the 1980s, including “Jack & Diane” (which went to No. 1), Mellencamp has carved a reputation for himself as a sort of rock ‘n’ roll chronicler of the lives of salt of the earth people.

As a result, it makes sense that Mellencamp’s song about a pair of teenaged lovers pondering their existence and resisting the future should be made into a musical.

A few months ago, in December 2018, Mellencamp spoke with Harry Smith on CBS This Morning to describe his plans for the musical and to declare his relationship status with actress Meg Ryan (engaged).

According to the interview, Mellencamp intends for the musical to have a literary quality. He refers to “Steinbeck” as the standard for the work. Mellencamp also does not want “Jack & Diane” to be seen as a “jukebox musical.” Instead, it seems as if the musical is supposed to dramatize the social and political problems of today, despite the song having been released in 1982.

John Mellencamp and the song and story of “Jack & Diane”

The story of “Jack & Diane” has multiple facets. As a song, there are the rock elements of the big drum sound, the catchy, but laidback lyrics. The song’s story is obvious. The two kids “doin’ best as they can” seems to summarize the lives of numerous “kids” from places that might not have an overt glamour to them, but the human spirit prevails there, too. And that spirit, is what attracts listeners to “Jack & Diane.” Audiences can cheer for the pair as they sit in their (probably Midwestern) environs and make out and consider how close 16 is to adulthood and how to make the best of right now.

Mellencamp’s relatively raspy and deep voice helps to bring the anthemic song to life. Of course, “Jack & Diane” is not Mellencamp’s first hit. It is also not the only song in which the singer depicts regular people fighting against their existence and larger forces that impact them. Songs such as “The Real Life,” “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Little Pink Houses” and others bear the Mellencamp stamp of everyday people and plain language.

Mellencamp’s work is marked by acoustic guitar chords and old school rock drumming that make the songs danceable. The songs then appeal to listeners on the virtues of their sound and their lyrics.

There is no word yet as to where “Jack & Diane” will play. It would be nice if the musical would do a run of theaters in towns and cities far from Broadway, in addition to Broadway.

Mellencamp released the album “Other People’s Stuff” in late 2018. The recording was his 24th.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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