John Mellencamp opens up about life, love and music in this week's issue of PEOPLE
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John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp
| Credit: Myrna Suarez

He's sold nearly 30 million records, notched 14 Grammy nominations and released 25 albums, so trust John Mellencamp when he says he knows the secret to living a lucky life is to keep things in perspective.

"Very simply, luck is thinking you're lucky, period," the 70-year-old rocker tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

He adds, "And you're talking to the luckiest guy you're ever going to talk to."

That good fortune has served Mellencamp well over the years — after more than 40 years of hits, he'll release his latest album, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, on Jan. 21.

Of the album's title, Mellencamp says it stems from the fact that a one-eyed jack is the most dangerous card in a deck. It's a reputation he understands: "People who know me would say, 'John is kind of prickly, and he can be dangerous.' I'm not for everybody."

The "Hurts So Good" singer weathered a long, rock-and-roll road to get to where he is today. Though he'd been in rock bands since his early teens, he left his hardcore partying days behind him in 1971, when he quit drugs and alcohol — something many of his childhood friends were unable to do.

"They couldn't get off the party," he says. "There comes a time when you got to go, 'Okay, I'm done with this s—.' It's funny and attractive to be 25 years old and be someplace high and drunk. But when you get to a certain age, it's not funny anymore. It's not cute, not sexy. Nothing good about it."

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Still, the teetotaler life couldn't keep him from smoking, a habit he picked up at age 14. Though he still smokes, he says a health scare in 1994 did help scare him into being more mindful of his well-being.

"I had lots of doctors going, 'John, your cholesterol's way too high and you smoke.' I'd go, 'F— it,'" he recalls. "I learned my lesson after I had a heart attack at 42."

John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp
| Credit: Marc Hauser

While Mellencamp shows no signs of slowing down, he does acknowledge that he's been dealt a hand in life for which he's grateful.

"I've walked down the streets of New York, Paris and London, and people walk up to me and say, 'You have a lot of angels.' The first time it happened, I thought, 'You're f—ing wacky.' But it's like, 'Yeah, I do,'" he says.

These days, the thrice-married star most enjoys spending time with his five children and painting in his Indiana art studio, which he calls his "favorite place to be in the world."

He finds inspiration "everywhere" and recognizes that his definition of success is likely much more simple than it is for other people.

"All I've ever needed was a guitar, motorcycle, some girl to put her arms around my neck and a stereo," he says. "That was it. That sounds like real success to me."