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Mellencamp is from a rural town in Indiana and often writes about the American experience. His songs are sometimes misinterpreted as patriotic anthems, when a deeper listen reveals lyrics that deal with the challenges of living in America as well as the triumphs. Mellencamp has expressed his love for his country, but has also criticized the US government for going to war in Iraq, developing a dependency on foreign oil and not doing more to support the working class.
"It's really an anti-American song," Mellencamp told Rolling Stone about "Pink Houses." "The American dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in."
Inspiration for this song came when Mellencamp was driving on Interstate 65 in Indianapolis. As described in the first verse, he saw a black man sitting in a lawn chair just watching the road. The image stuck with Mellencamp, who wasn't sure if the man should be pitied because he was desolate, or admired because he was happy.
MTV ran a contest based on this song where they gave away a Pink House in Indiana. They got a great deal on the place - John Sykes at the network remembers paying $20,000 for it - but unfortunately, the house was across from a toxic waste dump. When Rolling Stone ran an article pointing this out, Sykes flew to Indiana and bought another house, which is the one they gave away (after painting it pink). The ordeal provided one of the many strange-but-true memories of the early MTV years (and not the only one involving a contest - when they did a promotion with Van Halen making a viewer a "roadie for a day," the guy who won almost died from the alcohol, drugs and assorted excess). According to Sykes, the house near the waste dump stayed on the book at MTV until 1992, since they couldn't get rid of it.
Uh-Huh was the first album where Mellencamp used his real name. His manager named him Johnny Cougar when he started out. For this song, he used John Cougar Mellencamp, and in 1990, recorded as John Mellencamp.
Mellencamp performed an 8-minute version of this with Kid Rock at the 2001 "Concert For New York," a benefit for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
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