You can learn a lot from insignificant rock stars.

No, this isn’t a story about Sheryl Crow and her recycled toilet paper. I’m saving that one for tomorrow. Hell, how many of these do you expect me to do in one day? I’m supposed to be working.

This tale is even more interesting than someone as D-List as Crow. My amazement at the brilliance of some celebrities never ceases. The latest example of deep philosophical thought comes from the fertile mind of one John Mellencamp, who I was surprised to see was still making recordings, let alone doing something that would attract any media attention. The article mentions that Mellencamp has stayed in his native Indiana because he claims that “he never fit in elsewhere.” Based on some of the comments he made, it’s evident that John needs to get out more.

First, he introduces the world to a new cultural/ethnic group, “the China-Russians or something.” Either he’s either been in the basement too long, or the rest of us have completely missed the merger and acquisition of Russia by the Chinese, or of China by the Russians, or however it happened. This new union has produced a race of people who apparently are, as Mellencamp puts it, “some smart people,” since they’re going to come up with a way to take down our “power grid and financial system.” Using the Internet, no less. I know about Internet security issues; it’s part of what I do for a living. But I’m unaware of this new race of super-brilliant people tearing down our global information grid. We are able to protect some stuff, John.

He then makes the allegation that the music and movie businesses are going to be destroyed by the Internet, which is as dangerous as an “atomic bomb.” He uses the iPod and digital music files as an example of this coming annihilation:

For starters, the popularity of digital downloads, which fans listen to on their MP3 players and computers, has come at the expense of sound quality, he said.

He recalled listening to a Beatles song on a newly remastered CD and then on an iPod, and “you could barely even recognize it as the same song. You could tell it was those guys singing, but the warmth and quality of what the artist intended for us to hear was so vastly different.”

Maybe John didn’t read the news about young people and their hearing today. The quality of MP3s won’t matter soon, since they’re all going deaf anyway.

But let’s get a bit serious for a second. I can’t believe I have to explain this to someone who actually works in the music industry. John, why do you think those digital files sound like shit? Well, you can blame it on the compression methods used by distributors, both the MP3 format and the Apple-centric AAC format. Both methods are forced to compress the size of the file digitally, decreasing the dynamic range of the music (among other things) and affecting how we hear it, especially in an environment like a set of earbuds.

Perhaps John hasn’t been informed that a “lossless” compression method (such as my favorite, the completely free FLAC format would go a long way to preserving that sound he enjoys so much.

Then in an honestly self-effacing way, he informs us that what we listen to today will eventually be forgotten:

At any rate, most rock ‘n’ roll — including his own contributions — will eventually be forgotten, he said, likening its demise to that of big-band music, which was all the rage during the 1930s and ’40s.

“After a few generations, it’s gone,” he said. “Rock ‘n’ roll — as important as we think it is, and as big as it was, and as much money as people made on it, and as proud as I am to say that I was part of it — at the end of the day, they’re gonna say: ‘Yeah, there was this band called the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and this guy named Bob Dylan…’

“And the rest of us? We’re just gonna be footnotes…”

Let me see if I have this correct? Generations from now, people are going to forget the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan? Really? I have a question: have we forgotten Mozart? Beethoven? Brahms? We’re quite a few generations removed from those guys. As for big-band music, I have a really wonderful recollection of that era, guys with names like Basie, Ellington, James, Goodman and Calloway. I will bet Mr. Mellencamp that I have a far greater recollection of their music than I do of any of his songs.

Perhaps it never occurred to him that the depth, quality and substance of your creations are what make you memorable to successive generations of listeners. Apparently, he doesn’t see his own contributions in that way. I agree with him. I can remember exactly one line from “Jack and Diane.”

One of the criticisms of modern life (something with which I agree) is that we allow life to pass by too quickly. Young people, we older folks complain, have such short attention spans and can barely remember something of substance they read yesterday. Kids today don’t give things a chance to sink in, they don’t see the connections between what’s happening today and what occurred in recent history.

Right on cue, Mellencamp comments on something that occurred at a church where he recorded his more recent music:

Mellencamp recalled that he and his wife Elaine even got baptized at the church. “For about a half hour I really felt uplifted. It wore off,” he said.

Gee, John, I don’t suppose the two of you might have given the baptismal blessings a chance to work, did you? Getting baptized isn’t like having a few beers while watching your team win a football game — the feeling is not supposed to wear off by the morning, like a hangover. Baptism, no matter what faith or denomination has provided it, is the beginning of a different way of life.

However, I think I know how he feels. He forgot his baptism pretty quickly, the way many of us forgot most of his music right after we heard it.

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