About the Song:
Thematically, John Mellencamp had always written songs that dealt with the struggles and dreams of the average American (“Small Town,” “Pink Houses,” “Rain on the Scarecrow”). He’d also had hits that wallowed in nostalgia (“Jack and Diane,” “Cherry Bomb”) and songs about fighting against the system (“Authority Song”). In the 21st century, Mellencamp delved even deeper into political and social commentary. Middle-age also afforded him the chance to let out the crank old man which had been waiting to emerge since the onset of his career.
He also moved away from chasing hits. In 2009, Mellencamp told Rolling Stone “I am done being a rock star. I have no interest in that, in having the biggest concerts. I have only one interest: to have fun while we’re doing this and maybe have something that somebody might discover.” WK
His previous album, Freedom’s Road, presented Mellencamp as a modern-day Woody Guthrie and Life, Death, Love, and Freedom furthered that image. He tapped T-Bone Burnett as a producer. He was the perfect choice, having established himself as an expert at making music that sounded like it came from another era with Grammy-winning albums like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
“If I Die Sudden,” a cut from the Life album, was a perfect sampling of Mellencamp’s “new” sound. Thematically, the pessimistic reflection on mortality and one’s legacy fit perfectly with his now curmudgeonly image. Mellencamp sings, “just put me in a pine box” and “don’t tell anyone/ there ain’t nobody that needs to know / that I’m gone.”
In 2008, John Mellencamp told Mojo magazine that this song “goes back 20 years to an uncle of mine who died at cancer at 58 from smoking. On his death bed he said, ‘I’m an atheist. Do not have a preacher come here and say what a great Christian life I’ve led. I didn’t.’ For me that was like, Wow! You gotta be pretty damn sure of yourself or pretty damn stupid to say that. I couldn’t figure out which one it was.” SF
First posted 2/1/2022.
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