Rain on the Scarecrow, Light on the Farmers Plight In 1900, 41% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, 100 years later this diminished to 1. 9%; astonishingly, during this timeframe, the U. S. population exploded from 71 million to 273 million. In the 1980s, the American family farmer once the backbone of the U. S. economy now faced dire straits, plagued by corporate consolidation and economic hardships. The family farmer was dying. In times of hardship, many families gather around a table of food, couple food with the force of music that unites and a powerful partnership can amplify a voice and a ause.
Panderer, actor, artist, rock star, cultural icon were some terms used to describe John “Cougar” Mellencamp, not necessarily attributes that conjure the image of a savior for the farming future. However, Mellancamp was also deemed a “Heartland Rocker” which he claimed to never understand yet liked anyways. Regardless of how people may have viewed him, it is undeniable that Mellencamp’s music had a great impact both culturally and socially. His politically relevant and heartfelt anthem “Rain on the Scarecrow”, spoke to the plight of the modern famer.
The American family farmer felt the pressure rom large corporations seizing their lands for pennies on the dollar while banks breathed down their necks waiting to foreclose on their properties; a David versus Goliath epic battle where blood on a plow symbolized the death of an American legacy. For the previous 150 years the middle class famer had been the economic engine of America, the classic heartland family working from dusk to dawn to feed both their families and their country.
Yet due to a combination of political and environmental factors this way of life was suddenly threatened and at risk due to the commercial industrialization by powerful en in expensive suits. It was against this group of people that Mellancamp railed in both real life and in his music in order to whip the masses into action, a desperate attempt to save the faming way of life. Since its inception, Rock ‘n’ Roll has been viewed as the dangerous voice speaking for the countercultural aspects of society, yet in 1985 Mellencamp’s music spoke to the middle class who felt marginalized by the powers in Washington.
At this time famers across the country were rapidly losing their land and livelihood due to a chain reaction that came to a head with the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. As echnology continued to evolve, farmers grew more and more dependent upon powerful machines that vastly increased their production but came at a significant financial cost. In order to keep up with the times farmers across the country leveraged themselves financially, betting the farm, risking everything to procure a future. At first, with the low interest rates offered in the early 1970’s the farmer’s gamble paid off leading to a huge increase in production.
Yet with the skyrocketing gas prices due to the oil embargo the United States economy slowed to a crawl, and interest rates once again swelled, leaving farmers in a recarious position. To compound this effect, President Jimmy Carter issued an embargo on all farm products against the USSR, a massive market. With operating costs billowing and demand drying up in foreign and domestic markets alike America’s famers became desperate. Massive protests took place in 1978 to no avail and it seemed that the United States leaders were intent on ignoring the pressing issues in the agricultural sector.
The problems facing America’s Midwest became no less pressing with the election of Ronald Regan who actually cut farm subsidies; and soon foreclosures and violence ecame the way of life for many famers. Waiting to pounce on this opportunity were large agricultural corporations who bought up thousands of acres of land, forcing out many independent farmers. It was at this time that John Mellencamp and many other influential musicians decided they must bring attention to this travesty.
Mellencamp describes the process for writing “Rain on the Scarecrow” as he sat at his kitchen table and wondered why small town America was disappearing under his nose, “We couldn’t figure out why they were disappearing. We did our research and wrote this song – Reagan had been using grain gainst the Soviet Union and all sorts of other things. Talking to people was heartbreaking. Nobody wanted to lose their farm. ” The opening chorus states, “Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm /I grew up like my daddy did My grandpa cleared this land / When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand”.
However, the most grave lyric of the song comes when Mellencamp croons, “this land fed a nation, this land made me proud, and son l’m just sorry there’s no legacy for you now”. This speaks to the end of a way of life for many men and woman in the mid-west, who would not be able o pass the farming heritage to their children; the death of a legacy. In addition to the sobering lyrics, a continuous barrage of deep percussions and a harrowing guitar riff added to Mellencamp’s solemn voice to create a musical form that spoke of the downtrodden circumstances directly to the millions of people that comprised the farming families.
While lyrically this song is certainly involved with the plight of farmers, and it even drove some individuals to action, it was the Farm Aid concert which remains the lasting impact from the “key artistic advance” of Mellancamp’s career. In 1985 between eight nd ten thousand people came together in farm country Champaign, Illinois, in order to protest the government actions with a grassroots campaign. This was a turning point for Mellencamp’s career both professionally and personally as it turned him from a somewhat disliked and misunderstood singer into a cultural icon who was set to represent the rural Midwest.
The public’s attitude about Mellencamp, and how his album Scarecrow changed this narrative is best described when one author wrote that if, “you are unwilling to part with your John Cougar sucks mine’ attitude, save yourself the frustration and go n to another article. ” A farmer who attended the concert was quoted as saying, “I think he represented the cause and it was great. his heart is in it. He’s for us. ” While this performance may not have had the long-term impact of a concert such as Woodstock, it did indeed set the political wheels into motion.
The Farm Aid concert served to put the national spotlight on the farmers issues, Mellencamp’s concert (also featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young) scrutinized President Regan’s policy of trying to de-subsidize an agricultural industry that desperately needed financial help. Lawmakers finally responded and by 1987 over $29 billion dollars had been put into subsidies for farms. Additionally, the Farm Security Act was updated and reworked to better face modern issues.
The Farm Aid concert created many grass root organizations which continue to raise funds for farmers today. In conclusion, it is well documented that since the beginning of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the genre provides a voice for the voiceless and soundtrack to countless revolutions and countercultural movements both in the United States and around the world. In the song, Rain on the Scarecrow, Mellencamp was able to uccessfully harness his music’s energy and direct it in a way that brought national awareness to the agricultural community.
While this massive hit may not have been a major reason in President Regan’s change of fiscal policy towards farmers, it cannot be denied that once again, it was Rock ‘n’ Roll which voiced the issues that plagued a nation. John Mellencamp, the all American rock star, had one of the biggest hits of his career in order to defend small town America. Simply put he wanted to keep farmers on their land, he helped take them to the “Promised Land”.