Smashing Pumpkins Legend Thought John Mellencamp Was ‘Jerk’

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In a recent conversation with Backstage Pass Rock-News, via I Love Classic Rock – renowned session musician and ex-Smashing Pumpkins live drummer Kenny Aronoff pulled back the curtain on his time as a member of John Mellencamp’s band, delving into the intricacies of their collaboration that shaped an era of hits and challenges spanning the ’80s and ’90s.

Aronoff, known for his unfiltered candor, shed light on Mellencamp’s relentless pursuit of radio-friendly hits during that pivotal period, offering a nuanced perspective on the acclaimed singer. The drummer not only recounted the challenges inherent in this pursuit but also provided profound insights into its lasting impact on his own outlook on Mellencamp as a musical collaborator.

One standout moment Aronoff recalled was when Mellencamp urged the band to adopt a “Super Bowl mentality” in crafting chart-topping tracks. The drummer’s initial reaction was candidly expressed with a dismissive thought, “What a jerk!” However, Aronoff quickly acknowledged the validity of Mellencamp’s approach, realizing the deeper significance of the collaborative effort.

“Super Bowl Mentality” became a pivotal revelation for Aronoff, prompting him to shift his perspective from self-centered creativity to a collective pursuit of success. He recounted the epiphany, stating, “This is not about me at all! This is about me contributing to that song, to that artist. What can I do as a drummer and a person to get that song on the radio to be number one?”

Describing Mellencamp’s ethos as embodying the “Super Bowl mentality,” Aronoff emphasized the focus on the team, the song, and the artist rather than individual glory. The realization marked a transformative moment for Aronoff, acknowledging Mellencamp’s wisdom.

Reflecting on Mellencamp’s directive, Aronoff quoted their conversation, where Mellencamp stressed the collaborative ethos: “He said, ‘Kenny, if somebody has a better drum beat than what you’re playing, you play it. We all play each other’s instruments. Whatever it takes to get a number one hit.'”

While emotionally labeling Mellencamp a “jerk” during that moment, Aronoff, with hindsight, recognized the artist’s foresight. Mellencamp’s question of what the group needed to do collectively to outshine musical giants like Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John underscored the intensity of the competition for the coveted top ten slots on the radio.

In essence, Aronoff’s revelation paints a picture of Mellencamp’s unconventional yet effective leadership style, emphasizing the collaborative spirit and unrelenting pursuit of musical excellence during an era that left an indelible mark on the industry.