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John Goes to “Woodstock”
01.19.2009 - As Henry Diltz, the legendary rock photographer whose famed portfolio includes The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel” and Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album covers, said, “It’s like Woodstock,” and sure enough, the 400,000 or so people who jammed the vicinity of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday for the superstar “We Are One” concert event that was the opening ceremony of the Obama inauguration witnessed a veritable music festival/love-in.

Those of us in the Mellencamp camp can be forgiven for thinking that John smoked them all with his spot—because he did! Preceded by remarks by Joe Biden, John saluted the First and Second Families, then he and Andy York ripped into an exultant version of “Pink Houses” that had the crowd singing along with them and the Baptist choir behind them.

As the esteemed blogger Melinda Newman noted in her Hitfix.com coverage, “[He] gets the biggest cheer of any performer so far and is the first to really seem awake.” For his part Obama, according to a reporter from New York Magazine, gave John an “Oh, man, you killed it!” finger-point at the end.

Earlier I tried to get John’s reaction to the momentous occasion. He was warming up on his acoustic guitar when I popped in to his trailer backstage.

“Yes?” John said as I stuck my head through the door, his tone either warm or annoyed.

“I know you want me to hang out with you now to get some comments for the Web site!” I replied with utmost confidence.

“Not really,” he responded in a tone I still wasn’t sure of other than it most certainly was not warm.

“Yeah, you really do!” I countered, confidence definitely waning.

“No. I actually like being alone!” he said, almost pleadingly.

“But John, you’re such a social person!” I said, trying to sound like I meant it.

“You just want to see if there’s any food here!” he retorted.

He had me there, point, game, match. Back out I went into the cold, just as Forest Whitaker was walking by, searching for the most authoritative-looking VIP to direct him to Stevie Wonder’s trailer.

“No, I don’t know which one it is,” I answered, then added, “but I know which one it isn’t” and pointed to John’s.

But John was more talkative after the show ended.

“Did you say anything to Obama?” I asked.

“I said, ‘How’s the smoking?’ He said it was going good.”

The cigarette addict was referring, of course, to the President-elect’s own well-known smoking habit—which he says he’s trying to stop. Meanwhile, Elaine Irwin Mellencamp was aglow over the “undivided attention” Obama paid to her boys.

“He was so gracious to them,” she said. “I’m very proud as a parent to see my kids with the next president.”

And what did he say to the kids?

“He asked us about sports,” said Speck (Speck is a boxer, Hud is a football player, and both were Obama supporters early on). “He told us that we were tough.”

Nearby, Andy York was melting.

“I got a kiss from Michelle Obama!” he explained, and that wasn’t all.

“After the show Bruce Springsteen came over and said, ‘Man, [‘Pink Houses’] is a timeless song…just as good today!” he said.

-- jim bessman


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