LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rocker John Mellencamp said on Tuesday that the Internet was the most dangerous invention since the atomic bomb, although new technology could paradoxically delay the inevitable demise of rock ‘n’ roll.
But before then, “some smart people, the China-Russians or something” may have already conquered America by hacking into the power grid and financial system, he warned during a public seminar at the Grammy Museum.
Mellencamp, 58, has established a reputation during his career as a bit of a loose cannon disdainful of music industry niceties. He still lives in his home state of Indiana, saying he never fit in elsewhere.
Famed for such hit songs as “Hurts So Good,” “Jack and Diane” and “Small Town,” he is also a political activist who campaigned for President Barack Obama. He has also helped Live Aid organizer Willie Nelson put on the annual Farm Aid charity concerts for small farmers.
His comments on the Internet coincided with the release — in stores and at digital retailers — of his new album, “No Better Than This.” While he said the Internet was useful on a personal level for communication, he worried about its destructive potential.
“I think the Internet is the most dangerous thing invented since the atomic bomb,” he said. “It’s destroyed the music business. It’s going to destroy the movie business.”
For starters, the popularity of digital downloads, which fans listen to on their MP3 players and computers, has come at the expense of sound quality, he said.
He recalled listening to a Beatles song on a newly remastered CD and then on an iPod, and “you could barely even recognize it as the same song. You could tell it was those guys singing, but the warmth and quality of what the artist intended for us to hear was so vastly different.”
At any rate, most rock ‘n’ roll — including his own contributions — will eventually be forgotten, he said, likening its demise to that of big-band music, which was all the rage during the 1930s and ‘40s.
“After a few generations, it’s gone,” he said. “Rock ‘n’ roll — as important as we think it is, and as big as it was, and as much money as people made on it, and as proud as I am to say that I was part of it — at the end of the day, they’re gonna say: ‘Yeah, there was this band called the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and this guy named Bob Dylan...’
“And the rest of us? We’re just gonna be footnotes. And I think that that’s OK. I’m happy to have spent my life doing what I wanted to do, playing music, make something out of life, but forgetting about the idea of legacy.”
Mellencamp, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, said his first half-dozen albums were “just terrible,” while his mid-‘80s breakthroughs such as “Scarecrow” and “The Lonesome Jubilee” were “happy accidents.”
He actually quit the music business for two years in the late 1980s and did nothing. “We even knew what was on TV at night,” he said.
His new album takes the rocker back in time. He recorded it with vintage equipment in three historic locations: Sun Records in Memphis, original home of Elvis and Johnny Cash; in the same San Antonio, Texas, hotel room where bluesman Robert Johnson cut 16 tracks in 1936; and at the First African Baptist church in Savannah, Georgia.
Mellencamp recalled that he and his wife Elaine even got baptized at the church. “For about a half hour I really felt uplifted. It wore off,” he said.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Vicki Allen