John Mellencamp “Small Town” Lyrics Meaning

“Small Town” is a song from 1985, written by John Mellencamp and featured on his eighth album called Scarecrow. This song made it to #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and reached #13 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Mellencamp wrote this song to reflect on his own experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana. He was born in Seymour, Indiana, and later lived in Bloomington, Indiana, which was a bit bigger at the time when the song was released.

In the song, Mellencamp tries to express the value of the simple life in a small town, especially in the face of new technologies that were changing the lives of the working class.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the meaning behind the song’s lyrics.

“Small Town” Lyrics Meaning

[Verse 1]

Well, I was born in a small town

And I live in a small town

Probably die in a small town

Oh, those small communities

In Verse 1, the singer is talking about his upbringing in a small town in Indiana. He mentions that he was born there and expects to spend his whole life in that small town.

The phrase “Oh, those small communities” implies that Mellencamp has a fond appreciation for the close-knit social bonds and sense of togetherness that are characteristic of small towns.

[Verse 2]

All my friends are so small town

My parents live in the same small town

My job is so small town

Provides little opportunity

In Verse 2, the singer mentions that all of his friends also come from the same small town, and his parents still live there. However, he recognises that his job in the small town doesn’t offer many opportunities.

The singer uses “small town” as an adjective to underscore that his friends, parents, and job are all closely tied to the characteristics and limitations of living in a small town.

[Verse 3]

Educated in a small town

Taught to fear Jesus in a small town

Used to daydream in that small town

Another boring romantic, that’s me

In Verse 3, the singer talks about his education in the small town in Indiana where he grew up.

He mentions that he was taught about religion and, specifically, to fear Jesus in this small town.

He also reminisces about daydreaming in that same small town during his youth.

[Verse 4]

But I’ve seen it all in a small town

Had myself a ball in a small town

Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town

Now she’s small town just like me

In Verse 4, the singer reflects on his experiences in the small town in Indiana where he grew up.

He mentions that he has experienced various aspects of life while living in this small town.

He talks about having a good time or “having a ball” in the small town.

He also reveals that he got married to someone from Los Angeles (“an L.A. doll”) and brought her back to his small town. 

[Verse 5]

No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from

I cannot forget the people who love me

Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town

And people let me be just what I want to be

In Verse 5, the singer expresses a strong sense of loyalty and belonging to the small town in Indiana where he grew up, as expressed in the line “No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from.”

He says that he values the people in his hometown who love him. He appreciates the freedom to be who he truly is within the close-knit community of his small town. 

[Verse 6]

Got nothing against a big town

Still hayseed enough to say, “look who’s in the big town”

But my bed is in a small town

Oh, and that’s good enough for me

In Verse 6, the singer acknowledges that he has nothing against larger or big cities.

The following line “Still hayseed enough to say, ‘look who’s in the big town'” is a playful and somewhat self-deprecating expression. In this line, “hayseed” is a colloquial term that refers to someone from a rural or small-town background, often implying a lack of sophistication or worldly experience.

The phrase “look who’s in the big town” suggests that he can appreciate the novelty or excitement of being in a larger city, but he remains grounded in his small-town roots.

However, he ultimately prefers and finds contentment in his small town in Indiana, singing, “But my bed is in a small town,  Oh, and that’s good enough for me.”

Deeper Meaning Behind “Small Town”

John Mellencamp’s song “Small Town” is a heartfelt ode to the simplicity and authenticity of rural life, inspired by his own experiences growing up in Seymour, Indiana.

The song explores the connection he felt to his small-town roots and the values it instilled in him. As he sings, “I was born in a small town, and I live in a small town.” 

Mellencamp wrote this song “Small Town” after having some conversations with folks from New York who seemed to think he was a rube. In a 2013 interview, Mellencamp explained to Rolling Stone:

“I wanted to write a song that said, ‘you don’t have to live in New York or Los Angeles to live a full life.’ I was never one of those guys that grew up and thought, ‘I need to get out of here.’ It never dawned on me. I just valued having a family and staying close to friends.”

The success of “Small Town,” according to Mellencamp, can be attributed to its ability to make people feel good. He believes that many of his songs that don’t do well commercially are less popular because they force people to face issues, like the challenges faced by American farmers.”

Regarding the line, “Married an LA doll and brought her to this small town,” it references Mellencamp’s second wife, Vicky Granucci, whom he married in 1981. They had two daughters before divorcing.

Afterward, he married Elaine Irwin, who was 17 years younger. Occasionally, he would sing, “My wife was 13 years old growing up in a small town when I wrote this song,” providing some interesting trivia about the song’s origins.

The song “Small Town” by John Mellencamp is titled as such because it pays homage to small-town life and the experiences associated with growing up in a rural or less urban environment. The title directly reflects Mellencamp’s deep connection to and appreciation for the simplicity, authenticity, and community of small-town living.

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