MJ Interview: John Mellencamp
Credit: Stephanie Pfriender / Rounder Records

What's the key to happiness?
Problem solving. The sooner everybody realizes happiness is not like a god given gift, but problems are, the more you're going to enjoy life. Don't be afraid to try and solve problems. Even if you fail, who cares? You tried to solve the problem. Do you know how many songs I've written that've sucked? It must be a million. How many paintings have I done that've sucked? Like maybe a million. But every now and then…I'll get a good one.

What have you learned about addiction?
I was very lucky. I haven't been drunk since 1972, and I haven't done any drugs since 1973. Other than tobacco, which is a big other. But I have to say one of the reasons I think you and I are talking. Do you know what the average life expectancy for a guy in a rock band is? 48. People think if they're successful and they sell a bunch of records they're going to be happy. But of course they're not happy, they're not going to fill that void, so they have the luxury and people allow them to do drugs and alcohol freely and they provide it with them. And they die. It's not a good plan. And you're a sucker if you buy into it. It's for suckers.

What role does vanity play in a man's life?
Well, you have to be careful with that, don't you? I'm taking old age like a man. If I get a little belly on me, goddammit that's the way a man's supposed to look. That's what happens when you get to be a certain age. And yeah, okay yeah, I'll put a little ink my hair every now and again. But you have to be careful, because after a certain time you start believing it yourself and you just look foolish. You're a certain age. Act it. I learned that from Robert Plant of all people. I went down to Louisville, Kentucky, to see him live a few years ago and I didn't really know what to expect because all his posing with his shirt unbuttoned in the Led Zeppelin days. But today he just stands there and sings his ass off, and he doesn't count on all that posturing to get him over. He knows that with his talent and his voice and his charisma that he doesn't have to show it off as an older gentleman. He's fantastic. Watching him just walk up there and deliver these songs with his voice. That's the way you're supposed to do it, man. Robert Plant taught me a shitpile and he didn't know it.

How should a man handle a divorce?
I have to say when a man lives for himself, it's hard to live with him. That's pretty much the story of all my divorces. I've been making records since I was 22 and done things my way and it's hard for me to compromise. And of course, to have a successful relationship one has to compromise. Sometimes I'm not good at it. I used to say, nobody's the boss of me, not even me. But I'm learning. I'm learning how to be a partner and it's kind of fun actually to learn something new at my age.

Mellencamp recently released a 19-disc box set, John Mellencamp 1978–2012, and is now recording his first new album in five years.