John Mellencamp doesn’t care what you think about it.
Since launching his career more than four decades ago, the heartland rocker has refused to follow the rules of how to be a pop star. And with the release of his latest album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, the 65-year-old singer-songwriter has only grown more absolute in his convictions.
“I don’t really plan, and I’ve never cared about my image — just about my family, my kids,” Mellencamp says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Why would I care what some guy on the Internet thinks?”
While public perception is typically an important part of being famous, the Grammy winner has always disdained “playing the game.”
“I remember when I was a kid, people would tell me, ‘You have to move to New York because there are clubs and stuff you gotta be seen in,'” Mellencamp says. “I was like, ‘I’m not doin’ that. I don’t give a s— if people see me in a club. What do I care about that? What’s that got to do with music?’ That’s the way they did it in the ’70s — there were all these hip clubs like CBGBs you had to be seen at, and everybody went there and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. For me, it was like, ‘I don’t want to be here. I don’t know these people.’ I was not put on this earth to make small talk.”
Indeed, the singer, who doesn’t like to give interviews, is introverted in his personal life, too. Though Mellencamp still spends many of his days touring — last year, more than 100 — many believe he spends the majority of his time in his native Indiana.
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“It’s truly a misconception because I’m always doing something,” he says. “The idea that I’m in Indiana all the time has always been a misconception, for the last 40 years. I go there when I have a chance.”
Sure enough, the vocalist recently enjoyed a month-long break home in the Midwest, during which he seldom made contact with other people.
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“I just spent a month on my property and never left,” Mellencamp says. “I’d get up, to go my art studio for the day, go to bed. I didn’t talk to anybody except the people who work in my house, didn’t talk to anybody on the phone, and finally my dad called me and said, ‘You need to leave the house.’ I don’t want to! I like being by myself. I’m getting good at it.”
Fair enough. The singer famously dated Meg Ryan (they broke up in 2014 after three years together) and, more recently, Christie Brinkley (they amicably split last August). But these days, he’s focusing on his political new album — and has no plans to retire.
“I’ve been working 40 years to get into the situation I’m in, to write when I want — not have the pressures on me to deliver a record,” he says. “Why would I retire?”
Mellencamp’s new album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is out now; his summer tour kicks off June 5 in Colorado.