- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

NEW YORK —John Mellencamp has a summer job this year. Not that singing rock 'n' roll songs onstage for a few hours each night in front of adoring fans is particularly grueling.
Yet rock stars, unless they are washed up, rarely go on tour these days unless they have a specific project to promote. Mr. Mellencamp is going out on the road without such an agenda; his latest album came out last year; and he does not have another one on the horizon.
He is hitting the open-air "shed circuit" for a month, calling it his Summer Work tour.
It is a venue that suits the 50-year-old Hoosier well. Sitting on a blanket under moonlit skies, you cannot help but be impressed by the sheer volume of hits he can throw at you: "Pink Houses," "Lonely Ol' Night," "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.," "Check It Out," "Key West Intermezzo," "Peaceful World."
He submitted to a few questions the wired way, answering e-mailed questions from his wife's portable computer.
Q: You're going out on tour without a new album to plug. How does this change the type of show you perform? Does it give you more freedom to roam through your repertoire?
A: I have made twentysome albums in my career and have been very fortunate to have had many songs on the radio. More times than not, the audience would prefer to hear the songs that they are most familiar with. So, it has always been a balancing act when preparing for a show what to put in and what to leave out. I've tried and have always tried to entertain and challenge myself and the audience and hopefully end up in something that feels communal.
Q: "Peaceful World" took on a new resonance for listeners, obviously, after September 11. Have the events affected your writing since then?
A: I haven't written since then, except for a few small smatterings for a musical I'm working on with Steve King. As you may or may not know, "Peaceful World" was written a few years before September 11. I think all songs that are not just pop throwaways would take on a new meaning after such a tragedy.
Q: Are you sick of performing any of your hits? On the flip side, are there songs that mean more to you now than when you wrote them?

A: I have always changed, but tried to stay true, to whatever songs I might perform. Anyway, these songs are never done. I have found that all of these songs are in motion, each an art project, if you will.
Q: What's it like collaborating with Stephen King? Can you tell us any more about the project? And I hear King has his own rock band you ever give him any lessons?
Steve is an honest gentleman, a person of integrity, and has written a beautiful story. Hopefully, we can complete this project before this time next year. But he is busy and so am I. And as far as his rock band goes, well I tuned his guitar once and Steve certainly looks cool.
Q: After so many years of Farm Aid, is it hard to attract attention for the work being done there?
Yes, as the '80s do-gooders faded into whatever weirdness they're into now people did seem to lose interest. Particularly, as the newspapers had such important things to cover as, oh, I don't know, Monica Lewinsky. Whatever little tabloid thing that can rear its icky little head. Yes, it became hard. But Farm Aid is a very complicated matter that cannot be covered in a headline or a news bite of today's media. But the music has always been terrific. We have continued to raise money, and the fact that we're still here speaks very highly of Willie Nelson.

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