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Backstage with Mellencamp at Letterman

Plus watch him perform 'Save Some Time to Dream' on 'Letterman'

December 7, 2010 12:25 PM ET

Hours before taping The Late Show With David Letterman Monday night, John Mellencamp soundchecked a cover of Blind Willie McTell's "Delia" and talked to Rolling Stone about his new dark material. "If you look back at American music, like 'Delia,' it was all about death and suffering," he said. "That why they call it blues. In today's world we have so many candy-coated songs that have become popular music."

Read the Rolling Stone Review of Mellencamps's No Better Than This

He also shared his views on his longtime friend Willie Nelson's arrest in Texas for possession of marijuana. "It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Mellencamp said. "He had the IRS mess with him a few years ago and lost everything. Willie's always doing good things for people with the American farmers and biodiesel. He's always doing something. We should all aspire to have the kind of kindness that Wilie has. And to arrest him for something stupid..."

On Letterman, Mellencamp played a stark, solo acoustic version of his new song "Save Some Time To Dream" (see video above). Before his performance he sat on the couch to talk with Letterman about his refusal to quit smoking despite his health problems and pleas from his doctors and family. He estimated that he's smoked 650,000 cigarettes throughout his life. "I'm toast," he said.

Farm Aid 25 Photo Gallery

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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