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Indianapolis Star: Hoosier Musician Now Rock Hall Of Famer
03.11.2008 -

Mellencamp: Hoosier musician now Rock Hall of Famer
Hoosier rocker inducted after 32 years of serious business

By David Lindquist
david.lindquist@indy.com

NEW YORK -- John Mellencamp made a self-effacing entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday night, devoting much of his induction speech to detailing his treatment for spina bifida as an infant before relating the familiar story of becoming a music star on his own terms.

Mellencamp told an audience at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel he underwent 18 hours of spinal-cord surgery that cost his parents $1 in an example of a doctor's Hoosier hospitality from 1951.

The Seymour native and Bloomington resident said his grandmother often assured him, "Buddy, you're the luckiest boy in the world."

Mellencamp, who joined the Rock Hall with fellow performers Madonna, Leonard Cohen, the Dave Clark Five and the Ventures, applied the assessment of luck to a singing career that began with a Big Apple manager giving him a stage name he didn't want -- "Johnny Cougar" -- but eventually flourished in the 1980s thanks to songs based on the struggles and small pleasures of life in rural America.

Billy Joel introduced Mellencamp by joking about pop singers who advance in age ("The record industry died before you did. Congratulations, John."), and 56-year-old Mellencamp followed his speech by performing bracing renditions of "Pink Houses," "Small Town" and "Authority Song."

The crowd dotted with celebrities such as actors Michael J. Fox and Meg Ryan responded with standing ovations after every tune.

The familiar hits of Mellencamp and Madonna brought Reagan-era flavor to the event.

During an induction speech devoted to behind-the-scenes friends and associates who pushed her to rebel and take risks during the heyday of MTV, Madonna recalled performing at Madison Square Garden and seeing an audience packed with girls wearing her fishnet-and-lace fashions.

"It freaked me out," she said.

For Monday's ceremony, Madonna wore a dress affixed with a black bow tie and sheer fabric at its top and bottom.

Following her speech, the Michigan native yielded the stage to Iggy Pop and the Stooges -- who performed her song "Burning Up" plus a buzzsaw punk reworking of "Ray of Light."

Pop, Madonna, Joel and Justin Timberlake (who gave an innuendo-laced introductory speech on the Material Girl's behalf) uttered enough expletives to push the event -- which was broadcast live on cable television network VH1 Classic -- into R-rated territory.

To close the 3-1/2-hour ceremony, actor Tom Hanks told an entertaining yarn about what it was like to be an American youngster experiencing the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.

He said the Dave Clark Five made 3-minute records that "smashed joylessness" to bits, even if the band never became a household name in the States.
Mellencamp's band returned to the stage one last time for a two-song tribute to drummer Clark and Co.

Joan Jett sang a proto-garage rendition of "Bits and Pieces," and Mellencamp and John Fogerty shared lead vocals on a soulful version of "Glad All Over."
Mellencamp drummer Dane Clark replicated Dave Clark's big beats on both tunes.
Beyond the star power of Mellencamp and Madonna, several literary moments stood out as ceremony highlights.
Ben Harper rhapsodized about harmonica player and Rock Hall "sideman" inductee Little Walter with a poem: "What bravery is to fear, Little Walter is to the blues."
Lou Reed quoted rambling bundles of lyrics written by Cohen, only to be trumped by Cohen's own wry recital of his "Tower of Song."

A message of peace and love was distilled in the songs written and produced by Philadelphia's non-performer inductees Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Patti LaBelle underscored the theme with a raise-the-roof performance of "If You Don't Know Me by Now."

And the Ventures entered the Hall of Fame by making songs featuring no words at all.

The seventysomething players from the Northwest showed off their landmark layering of lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass on the songs "Walk, Don't Run" and the theme to TV show "Hawaii Five-O."

This year's inductees were chosen by 600 music industry experts. Artists are eligible for inclusion in the Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of a debut recording.

Mellencamp was listed as finalist on the Hall of Fame ballot for the third time. He failed to collect enough votes for entry in 2003 and 2005.

During a pre-ceremony interview, the Mellencamp said he believes he made it this time because of an ability to "roll with the punches."

Following a lengthy run of hit singles and platinum-selling albums during the 1980s and 1990s, Mellencamp has pursued several projects outside the framework of "heartland" or "classic" rock expectations in recent years.

He made "Trouble No More," an album of faithful interpretations of blues songs written during the first half of the 20th century in 2000.

He's completed work on "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," a theatrical collaboration with author Stephen King.

Mellencamp's upcoming album "Life, Death, Love and Freedom" was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who oversaw acclaimed movie soundtracks "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Cold Mountain."

Seymour mayor Craig Luedeman proclaimed Monday as "John Mellencamp Day" in the Jackson County community.

Within his announcement, Luedeman referred to Seymour as "the original small town" that influenced Mellencamp, a 1970 graduate of Seymour High School.
Luedeman, 31, said he always appreciated Mellencamp's use of Seymour landmarks in the singer's early music videos.

"I grew up with those images, and I thought, 'Wow, he's really from Seymour,'" Luedeman said.

Read the Indianapolis Star article online.


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