“Scarecrow on a wooden cross / blackbird in the barn / Four hundred empty acres / that used to be my farm / I grew up like my Daddy did / my Grandpa claimed this land / When I was five I walked the fence / while Grandpa held my arm”, so starts my Album of the Week – John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Scarecrow‘.
I borrowed Scarecrow from Burton library a few months after its release in 1985. A concept album that documents, and laments, small farm foreclosures in Reagan’s America, it was one of the records that made me fall in love with the story-song. From John Cougar I moved on to Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, and Neil Young.
I haven’t listened to it much since I was a teenager, but I must have played it so repeatedly back then that when I put in on this week I could still remember the words to pretty much every song.
What I had forgotten, however, was the little treasure inside the album sleeve – a thin piece of A4 paper with a type-written biography of John Cougar, below which is the biro-scrawled phone number of Mellencamp’s publicist. As the blurb explains, the lyrics of Scarecrow are indeed autobiographical, or at least influenced by Mellencamp’s own upbringing in Seymour, Indiana, on the farm built by his great grandfather – a German peasant who made the trip west to build a new life in the late nineteenth century.
What drew me back to Scarecrow this week was not the stories, however, but its cover (see above). A reflective looking Mellencamp leans on a wire fence, the collars of his denim jacket upturned, while the eponymous bird scarer lurks in the background, his spread-eagled form drawing your eye to the mountains beyond. At fourteen I wanted to understand the wider world and Scarecrow looked and sound so different from my upbringing that I was easily enthralled. It seems just as true thirty years later and I reckon John Mellencamp will be a regular on the markontour turntable once again.