Indiana rock star John Mellencamp adopted gestures identified with Black Lives Matter and Black Power movements to express opposition to racial inequality during his Thursday appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Mellencamp “took a knee” in the manner of NFL players following the example of Colin Kaepernick, and the singer raised one fist in the tradition of African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
These gestures arrived at the end of Mellencamp’s performance of Easy Target, a bleakly sarcastic song that refers to African-Americans as being “created equal, equally beneath me and you.”
Easy Target, a song released on 2017 album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, featured accompaniment by keyboard player Troye Kinnett and violin player Miriam Sturm.
Before kneeling and raising his fist, Mellencamp sang the lines, “Me and you behind the bars, to keep each other apart. Easy targets, our country's broken heart.”
During an April 2017 interview with The Indianapolis Star, Mellencamp said Easy Target presented itself when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was alone and devoting time to his second artistic passion: painting portraits, landscapes and social commentary.
"I didn’t want to write that song," Mellencamp said. "I was busy painting.
'You need to stop what you’re doing and write this down.'
'John, write the song down.'
"That’s it. I wasn’t even thinking about race or poor people. Nothing. So the song just kind of came."
Mellencamp’s appearance on Colbert’s CBS talk show coincided with the first day of Black History Month and the release date of concert documentary John Mellencamp: Plain Spoken on Netflix.
The Seymour, Ind., native talks about observing racism as a teenager during his voice-over commentary of the Netflix film.
Mellencamp sang in a mid-'60s band known as Crape Soul (wordplay inspired by “crepe sole” footwear). The group featured two vocalists: Mellencamp, who is white, and Fred Booker, who is black.
Mellencamp spoke in detail about his Crape Soul days before singing civil-rights anthem Keep Your Eyes on the Prize during a 2010 appearance at the White House.
"The kid I sang with, he taught me how to dance, he taught me how to sing," Mellencamp said. "And people loved him — when we were onstage. It’s when we walked offstage, they said, ‘You guys, take that young man outside.’ He’s only a 16-year-old kid. He never said it hurt his feelings, but I knew it hurt his feelings. And it made a big impression on a 14-year-old John Mellencamp.
"Me and that kid fought many fights together, and I don’t mean verbal fights. I mean fistfights. It was at that point in my life I learned about how hate can really affect people."
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