Mellencamp is to Quaid as Springsteen is to Costner
Maybe it’s just the place I am from and time I grew up in but I see parallels in the careers of John Mellencamp and Dennis Quaid, especially as they relate to Bruce Springsteen and Kevin Costner. In a way, you could almost say that Mellencamp and Quaid are the poor man’s Springsteen and Costner, but I think it’s more complicated than that. In many ways these four figures are all of the same cut, the blue collar, gritty, working man’s man but they’ve all taken this role in their own vein. While Mellencamp’s songs are a snapshot of the common problems of Midwestern America, Springsteen’s hard take on the world from a Jersey boy often seemed more genuine, and in the same way Quaid gave us this steady strong figure much like our father’s but Costner offered the same common man quality but with a genuine humanity that felt more akin to the entire world.
Now once again, this article could be something that is more of a personal perspective on the incomplete information I have of the careers of these men but this is what these men are in my brain. John Mellencamp will always be associated with the song “Small Town” and street dances. Now, for those of you who don’t know what a street dance is, it’s an event that happens in small towns where they shut down the main street of the town and set up a stage, get a band and basically have a party. This is usually where most of the town’s teenagers get drunk for the first time and much of the debauchery of the summers of my youth have taken place at street dances, but they all come with fond stories and the dance floor being a happening place. There was always a live band and they always played two songs, “Jessie’s Girl” and Mellencamp’s “Small Town”, they were a must and we loved them every time. That was the thing about it that we loved, maybe the irony is a bit much, singing about a small town when you’re in a small town but it was our anthem, we embraced that it was a stereotype. My first memory of Dennis Quaid is probably from The Parent Trap, a fairly standard performance but it speaks to his role, father, dependable, wholesome. This has been the architype of most of Quaid’s figures, whether it be Jake Gyllenhaal’s father in The Day After Tomorrow or coach/dad in The Rookie he was always this wholesome figure that may have been a little cheesy at times but was always someone we loved despite it because most of us can be cheesy at times and it’s relatable. Both Mellencamp and Quaid were always these almost commonplace figures, constantly on classic rock radio and cable movie channels and I doubt either were thought of as the profound artists but they were reliable and lovable in a fatherly type of way.
When it comes to the cases of Springsteen and Costner there is much more complexity to it because they’ve gone through several phases of their careers and they cannot be defined as a singular stereotype yet somehow all their phases still equate to this dad figure who’s going to sit us down on our bed and tell us about life. As Springsteen preaches to us about the road, Costner’s constant landscape of sports takes on the canvas and the nuances of their perspectives give insight to not just the common topics on the surface but a more subversive meaning that runs through the themes of life. They are not only role models like Mellencamp and Quaid but endearing figures that have a certain moral compass that seems to be the more important focus like Costner’s ideals in Bull Durham or the focus of the album Nebraska. And even in their later years they come to carry on these similar roles as guiding figures and they are still basically centered around the same thing, like Costner as the general manager in Draft Day, a GM who is into the old school, hard nose method of managing. For Springsteen I think we see this elder statesman role and he’s been part of a few projects these days including the 2021 albums of The Bleachers and Tom Morello, not to mention a few songs on the latest Mellencamp record.
I’ll never forget the first Springsteen song I loved, it was “Thunder Road” I’m not sure if it was the harmonica or the Clarence Clemons sax solo, it may have even just been the way Springsteen releases the song with the line “Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair” but that song has always been pure magic to me but the fact is there have been several of these cherished song from Springsteen now, from “The River” and “Hungry Hearts” to “Atlantic City”, he is one of those artists that has been validated to me on multiple occasions and is almost more of a mythical figure than a real person. This is in many ways Costner too. When I was about seven or eight, I was obsessed with the movie “Dances With Wolves” and despite this saga being three hours long, I remember on several occasions when it was my selection from the library. Now, it’s not like I would say I remember seeking out Costner movies but as Robin Hood and Field of Dreams were right there for the taking, it was almost impossible to avoid him. And even to this day he can be seen as this larger-than-life figure that still gives off the most genuine vibes of any person I can remember.
These are all important men to children of the Nineties, ingrained in our TV sets and radio stations, they were as common to us as frozen pizza and Nintendo games. At different times they’ve meant different things but all in this tough, rugged, no bullshit type of way that made them characters we adored and always we were able to learn from their stories.