One of my favorite songs from my childhood was “Paper in Fire”, by John “Cougar” Mellencamp. I loved how the music video made this song seem as if it came together spontaneously, as something a bunch of people just started playing on their porch.
Now, decades later, the people who were the Mellencamp band when this song was made have gone their separate ways. In 1987, John Mellencamp was working with a group of excellent musicians who would remain part of the Mellencamp band for several years- Kenny Aronoff(percussion), Larry Crane(guitar), Mike Wanchic(guitar), Toby Myers(bass) and John Cascella(keyboards). Lisa Germano had also joined this group by 1987, the newest member of the Mellencamp band when “Paper in Fire” came out on The Lonesome Jubilee. These people seemed to have such chemistry in their videos, and I’m sure they’d have been amazing live. But that was ~25 years ago.
The Mellencamp band remained together with its 1987 members for several years. In November 1992, the group’s keyboardist, John Cascella, who had been working with John Mellencamp since 1982, died of a heart attack at the age of 45(Baltimore Sun). Larry Crane, who had been working with John Mellencamp since the early 70’s, left the group in 1991, and has been performing since then with various other artists. Crane released an album recently, Tropical Depression, and performs shows occasionally. He also teaches guitar, and has been working on a documentary project.
Lisa Germano remained involved with the group until the early 1990’s, but in 1991 she self-released her first solo album, and by 1994 she had released a fairly successful third solo album through the British label 4AD Records. Germano’s history post-Mellencamp is complex and interesting, covering quite a lot of how the music industry works, and the various pitfalls hidden within it for unsuspecting artists(for a decent summary see wikipedia). Lisa Germano is still a working musician now, and several of her albums are on spotify. She has a nice modern singer-songwriter style with interesting and original instrumentals, the sort of stuff I have heard a lot of from more recent artists, but that was not so much a hit-making genre in the early 90’s.
Her website is very pretty, and seems to work smoothly, even on my poor outdated computer, though wikipedia is more informative with regard to her biography. I really like the art she chooses for her album-covers. Any of them would very look cool as posters or t-shirt art, something not all musicians can boast.The cover-art shown here is from Germano’s 2006 release, In the Maybe World, and the songs on this album echo the otherworldliness of this cover image. Germano has a bitter edge to her sound, at least in most of her songs, that reflects the twistedness of real life, without a lot of the niceties that make reality seem smooth and pleasant on its surface.
Kenny Aronoff was Mellencamp’s drummer for ~17 years, though with the incredible long list of other artists Arnoff has played with, I’m sure he was not exclusively working with Mellencamp for all those many years. According to Aronoff’s webpage, he is still very active and in high demand as a drummer. He was an associate professor at Indiana University for percussion for several years, and he regularly teaches at drum clinics. He is currently particularly involved with a band called Chickenfoot- Sammy Hagar (vocals), Joe Satriani (guitar), Michael Anthony (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (taking the place of Chris Smith for a while) on drums. Considering this lineup, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Chickenfoot will be performing some killer rock music, even if the name sounds a lot more like a grunge or mountain bluegrass bandname.
John Wanchic was still with John Mellencamp as of 2009, and while I am sure he’s been as busy as all the rest of the group, he has a very slight web-presence apart from John Mellencamp. The music he and Mellencamp are crafting now is a different sound from what they started with years ago, and the industry they operate within has changed drastically. Wanchic gave an interview in 2009 for the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, in which he talked about working with John Mellencamp, in which he was quoted as saying “We may see the demise of the rock star. But who cares? The world doesn’t need more rock stars, but it always will need good music.”(Kerns, Lubbock Online) Considering how resistant Mellencamp has always seemed to being boxed and sold as a ‘rock star’, it’s good that his loyal fellow musician is so adaptable and dedicated to good music.
And Mellencamp? He’s still performing music, of course, but he has also been working on his art and other projects. John Mellencamp is not just a singer. He’s also a painter. According to his website, “he started painting in earnest in the 1980’s as a way to be creative in a more self-contained manner. His style has evolved over the years as evidenced by several gallery shows and published portfolios, and in recent years he has increased his output by completing nearly over 100 new works.(www.mellencamp.com)” He has also been working on a musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County”, in collaboration with Stephen King. It is planned to be released sometime in 2012 as a three-disc package- 2 discs of radio play style performance, plus a disc containing only performances of the songs and a book version of the script. The stage production debuted on April 4, 2012, at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, GA. Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Taj Mahal and Rosanne Cash are all listed by wikipedia as being involved in the audio recording hopefully soon to be released.