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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

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

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