No, John Mellencamp Did Not Promote Biden Onstage


The song opened on cue with a “little ditty about Jack and Diane,” but then the music abruptly stopped. John Mellencamp had barely finished the second verse of his smash hit when an exchange with a heckler had clearly gotten on his nerves.

“You know what?” he told concertgoers last month in Toledo, Ohio. “Show’s over.”

Videos capturing the moment when the singer walked off the stage have ricocheted for weeks online. A cascade of right-wing chatter on social media has fueled the perception that Mr. Mellencamp brought it on himself by promoting President Biden during the show.

But that was not the case.

An audio recording provided to The New York Times by Mr. Mellencamp’s representatives, and an interview with a reporter who covered the March 17 concert for The Blade in Toledo, show that the exchange started when a heckler grew frustrated with the singer’s long-winded reminiscences about his late grandmother. Representatives for Mr. Mellencamp, who returned to the stage and resumed the concert that night several minutes after walking out, declined further comment.

Mr. Mellencamp is an unabashed liberal who has previously barred several Republican presidential candidates from using his songs at political events and has assailed Congress for its response to gun violence. But the exchange with the heckler in Toledo did not stem from any political commentary that happened onstage.

“The word Biden or election never escaped John Mellencamp’s mouth that night,” Jason Webber, who covers music for The Blade, said in an interview.

Mr. Mellencamp, 72, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had been sharing an anecdote about how his grandmother, who had lived until the age of 100, had once cautioned him that “you’re not going to get into heaven if you don’t stop this cussing and smoking all the time.”

Not everyone appreciated his storytelling. “Play some music!” one concertgoer shouted, drawing a rebuke from Mr. Mellencamp, who called the man an expletive. The audience began to murmur, with some voicing their disapproval of the man’s interruption and some others sounding impatient, too.

At that point onstage, the singer enlisted help from his security team. “Hey Joe, find this guy and let me see him after the show,” he said, referring to one of his security guards. It was not clear whether some of Mr. Mellencamp’s critics had misinterpreted his reference to the security guard as a reference to the president.

Mr. Mellencamp then suggested that he would cut short his concert because of the heckling.

Scott Walker, a former Wisconsin governor who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, pounced on the situation online.

“He’s been a jerk for a long time,” Mr. Walker said of Mr. Mellencamp in a post Tuesday on social media.

Mr. Walker linked to a social media post by the Citizen Free Press, a right-wing news aggregation website that had erroneously attributed the heckling and Mr. Mellencamp’s reaction to politics. The site later removed the post from X and acknowledged its mischaracterization.

“CORRECTION,” it wrote in a separate post on X. “The John Cougar Mellencamp video currently going viral has nothing to do with politics or Joe Biden.”

Representatives for Mr. Walker did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Even after the Citizen Free Press posted its correction, right-wing voices have not relented in criticizing Mr. Mellencamp on X, where his name continued to trend this week.

“Dude in the audience is right,” one commenter on X wrote on Tuesday before the correction, combining references to Mr. Mellencamp’s former stage name, John Cougar Mellencamp, and the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “They didn’t pay to hear John Cougar Maddow.”

Mr. Webber, the Blade reporter, said he shook his head over the level of misinformation online.

“It’s not like he was up there preaching about politics,” he said.

Mr. Webber said he would be surprised if Mr. Mellencamp had a significant following on the far right in the first place. “A right-wing person going to a John Mellencamp concert would be like a leftist going to see Ted Nugent,” he said.

He estimated that the concert was interrupted for about five minutes before Mr. Mellencamp returned to the stage. But the singer did not pick up where he left off.

“He never did ‘Jack & Diane,’” Mr. Webber said.



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