Indianapolis Star: Hoosier Musician Now Rock Hall Of Famer
Mellencamp: Hoosier musician now Rock Hall of Famer
Hoosier rocker inducted after 32 years of serious business
By David Lindquist
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
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
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
And the Ventures entered the Hall of Fame by making songs featuring no words at
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
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,'"
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