John Mellencamp's New Song 'Eyes of Portland' Strikes a Chord With the Residents of a Dying City

John Mellencamp's new release, "The Eyes of Portland." (Credit: John Mellencamp)

I was driving around town yesterday when an announcer on the music radio station I was listening to said, “John Mellencamp is about to drop his new track, ‘The Eyes of Portland.’” My heart instantly sank. Oh boy, another artist I like, probably producing music ripping America and its values. Sigh.

Would the “eyes” of Portland blame the ultra-MAGA crowd for their woes, and claim that white supremacy, sexism, racism, and the unwoke caused their problems?

Now why would I jump to such a conclusion?

Mellencamp, who was forced in the early days of his career to take on the name John Cougar but went back to his real name once he found success, is, sadly, like all-too-many musicians, a liberal. And like Bruce Springsteen’s anthem, “Born in the USA,” Mellencamp’s seminal title, “Pink Houses,” sounds like a rockin’ ode to America when it’s actually a harsh criticism of our great land.

“Ain’t that America,” he sings. “Land of the free ee ee, little pink houses for you and me.” It’s a fantastic song. When I say fantastic, I mean the guitar is searing, the rhythm is complicated yet makes you want to grab your air guitar, and the vocals are signature rock ‘n roll. It was a top ‘80s hit that reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 and came in at 439 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The message, not so fantastic. Mellencamp:

“This one has been misconstrued over the years because of the chorus—it sounds very rah-rah. But it’s really an anti-American song,” Mellencamp said about “Pink Houses.” “The American dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in.”

Understand that this was produced in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan had taken the helm of the country and things were actually pretty good.

Mellencamp might now realize that owning a pink house was actually a pretty damn good dream, one which is far out of the reach of many many Americans today in Joe Biden’s America. (How much is the payment on a little pink house when the interest rate is eight percent?) If the musicman does realize that, he’s not saying so, but he has released a searing new track slamming the homeless epidemic plaguing one of many American cities, Portland, Oregon.

It’s a decent song—although it’s not up to the level of some of the terrific rockers he’s had in the past like “I Need a Lover,” “Small Town,” and “Authority Song” to name a few. But his message is interesting: we’re watching a formerly great city descend into depravity.

Watch (and listen) to “The Eyes of Portland”:


The lyrics are very on the nose, simplistic  almost, and I wouldn’t describe them as poetic—in fact, I would describe them more as “brute force.” But they do convey a sad and troubling vision of what’s happening not just to Portland, but to cities all across the land. Drugs. Refuse. Homelessness. Crime:

As I saw through the eyes of Portland one day
There were so many homeless, they’d all gone astray
They slept on the corners during the day
As not to be harmed when the sun went awayThere were old ones and young ones, white ones and black
They were all shapes and sizes, with rags on their backs
So many people mixed up in this stew
With no place to go and nothing to do

All of these homeless, where do they come from?
In this land of plenty where nothing gets done
To help those who are empty and unable to run
Your tears and prayers won’t help the homeless

Some are mentally ill, some are higher than kites
Selling their bodies as day turns to night
Where are their loved ones, does anyone care?
To be lost and alone in the middle of nowhere

All of these homeless, where do they come from?
In this land of plenty where nothing gets done
To help those who are empty and unable to run
Your tears and prayers won’t help the homeless

What will it take for this country to see
For the grace of God go they and not you and me
The fallen and forgotten, who are down on their knees
Living here in the gutters in this land of the free

All of these homeless, where do they come from?
In this land of plenty where nothing gets done
To help those who are empty and unable to run
Your tears and prayers won’t help the homeless
Your tears and prayers won’t help the homeless

While I applaud the artist for calling out the problem, there are several areas in which he goes astray. For one, his team used footage from Los Angeles in the music video, which is an unforced and frankly stupid error. However, the mistake inadvertently points out that this release could be about any number of U.S. cities—LA, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, the list goes on and on.

But it’s this line that sticks in my craw: In this land of plenty where nothing gets done. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth— there’s plenty being done, and most of it encourages more homelessness. To wit:

Portland is also considering a Democrat-backed bill that would allow members of the homeless community to sue property owners if they ask them to leave their residence.

House Bill 3501, commonly known as the “Right to Rest Act,” would allow “persons experiencing homelessness” to “use public spaces in the same manner as any other person without discrimination based on their housing status” with an “expectation of privacy.”

It’s one of about a billion of laws and regulations like San Francisco’s open air drug markets passed in mostly blue states that actively encourage the “unhoused” to camp on the streets. Said Portland resident Stue Peterson:

One of the problems we have here is the government wants to administer to the homeless and they’ve created a homeless industrial society, in my opinion, that doesn’t really get to helping or to alleviating what the real issues are.

In the last six or seven years, Portland has thrown $4 billion at the crisis, only to see the problem grow by 50 percent, not improve. The reality is, Oregon and states like California and Washington have encouraged homelessness by refusing to enforce laws, lowering penalties for criminal offenses, passing cashless bail, and conducting a war on law enforcement in the name of “defund the police.”

It is Democrat policies that have brought on this human catastrophe, and even though it’s just a rock n roll song, I would have loved to see Mellencamp call that out.

Lastly, the final line of the song, “Your tears and prayers won’t help the homeless,” implies that somehow you have failed, that you didn’t do enough. While one can feed homeless people on an individual level at shelters and do your part to assist, should you be so inclined, there is little a regular citizen can do to affect the homelessness crisis on a macro level. There’s literally nothing we can do to remove the tents covering swaths of downtown areas across the country, or house the people living in dilapidated RVs in residential neighborhoods. We can keep voting billions and billions more to fix things, but as we’ve seen, that simply isn’t working.

In short, the policies of blue state governors and legislatures have utterly failed, and there are now hundreds of thousands of sad, hopeless people roaming—and dying on—the streets of America. Mellencamp’s final line is an empty guilt trip with no solution.

While I feel bad dumping on Mellencamp, whose music I love, and while I appreciate at least his willingness to point out a problem that so many liberals are happy just to ignore, I can’t help but wish he’d take it a step further, and call out what’s really going on here—leftist policies have created this nightmare and until the nation wakes up to the fact it will continue to plague us.

See Also:

Massive 2-Mile Long Homeless Encampment Plagues Posh Marin County, CA

L.A. Homeless Deaths Spiked 56 Percent in 2020—Drugs Are to Blame, Not COVID

Homeless Encampments Overtake Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Workers Say ‘None of Us Feel Safe’


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