During a soundcheck for an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in December, John Mellencamp performed “Delia,” a ballad originally recorded 71 years ago by Blind Willie McTell. Mellencamp warmed up with it again at a recent taping for A&E’s Private Sessions with Lynn Hoffman.
Back in December, in his dressing room on the sixth floor of the Letterman taping, a gravel-voiced Mellencamp sipped from a bottle of chocolate milk and explained why he’s been playing the blues classic. “If you go back and look at American music, like ‘Delia’ for example, it was all about death, it was all about suffering,” Mellencamp tells Rolling Stone. “That’s why they call it the blues. In today’s world, we’ve had so many candy-coated songs that have become popular music.”
Like much of Mellencamp’s recent material, the song takes a close look at mortality, but he doesn’t see it as dark. “People say, ‘Oh my God! He’s talking about dying, Oh my God! He’s talking about sorrow,'” he says. “Then it’s like people hang this tag on it as dark. The original American songs were always dark. There was probably a couple happy ones I assume, but my research has always led me to these types of songs. And I think these types of songs are more of what we hide from then we want to admit. I don’t know what people think. I don’t know what they think because I don’t read the songs that way. You just saw me play ‘Delia.’ I mean, did I sing it sad? You know, it’s a sad fucking song.”