American Fool: The Roots and Improbable Rise of John “Cougar” Mellencamp (St. Martin’s Press, 1986)
Winner, ASCAP Deems Taylor Prize for excellence in music journalism
At the beginning of his career, John Mellencamp surrendered his real name to become Johnny Cougar—a Faustian gambit for rock stardom that had dogged him for years as he struggled for success. By the time Torgoff met and interviewed him for Interview, John Cougar had broken through with the biggest selling album of 1982, American Fool. Over the next couple of years, Torgoff observed him closely during a critical passage in his life as he reclaimed his real name, grappled with the fame that had overtaken him, and truly came into his own as a songwriter. The book that resulted was an indelible portrait of the music industry of the 1970s and 1980s, telling the story of Mellencamp’s journey from being a small town rebel and misfit in Seymour, Indiana who dreamed of being a rock star, to artistic maturity and respect.