Bloomington Herald Times: Mellencamp Films New Video At Beck Chapel

By Mike Leonard

Cozy Beck Chapel has seen thousands of weddings since it was built in 1956.

On Monday, it was the setting for a funeral of sorts — the filming of a video for the gospel-tinged song “A Ride Back Home” from John Mellencamp’s current album, “Life Death Love and Freedom.”

“But I don’t see it as sad,” said Elaine Mellencamp, John’s wife and executive producer of the video. “It’s more of a timeless, positive spiritual message. When I look at this chapel, I think of June Carter and the Carter family up there.”

The song clearly embraces a gospel theme, with the singer musing over a hard life that has come to an end and asking forgiveness in the line: “Hey Jesus, can you give me a ride back home?”

“There actually was a conversation about taking it to gospel radio,” Mellencamp said as he took a break outside the chapel.

He dispelled the notion that he was looking to gain a new audience, however. “The days of trying to expand your national audience is over,” he said with a chuckle. “My job is to hold on to the audience I have.”

That didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of curious Indiana University students stumbling upon the film site, tucked away in the heart of campus but dwarfed by the massive Indiana Memorial Union. There were cars, trucks and a bus parked along the inner drive in the central part of campus, with security personnel visible to everyone surveying the scene.

At one point during a break, dozens of students lined up along the stacked limestone wall south of the chapel. “Mr. Mellencamp?” a female voice called out. “May we take your picture?”

Mellencamp, who was speaking with Elaine, turned around and obliged. “Take it!” he said with a what-are-you-waiting-for tone in his voice.

During filming inside the chapel, the sound of camera shutters going off was almost constant, as friends, who doubled as extras, and technicians took their own photos. The tiny chapel seemed even smaller than it is, with professional film equipment, lighting and crew members and reporters packing the little limestone chapel.

Singer Karen Fairchild was a gracious special guest despite an arduous side trip from touring with her band, Little Big Town. “Let’s see, it was from Cheyenne to Boise to Denver to Nashville to here,” she said. “And from here, it’s back to Boise for a show tomorrow night.”

Fairchild said she was grateful for the opportunity to again join up with Mellencamp, for whom she’s added harmony vocals on his past couple of albums. “John’s an intimidating presence as a musician,” she said. “But he couldn’t be nicer. He makes it very easy. But I always feel like I have to bring my A game.”

Longtime Mellencamp guitarist Mike Wanchic might have won the day’s prize for nervousness, however. With his wife, Laura, in the early stages of labor, he was constantly checking his cell phone for messages. “Oh, if she was further along I wouldn’t be here. I mean, it could be tonight or it could be a week.” When she arrives, baby Lilah will join brother, Luke, 17 months, as the couple’s second child together.

Mellencamp said the video would be the 49th of his career. “Can you believe that?” he asked. “We sat down and counted the other day.”

He said he hadn’t anticipated making the new video but Hear Music, which released “Life Death Love and Freedom,” is still “working” the album and promoting it. It’s a welcome change for the Bloomington-based entertainer, who has long complained that record companies cast albums aside far too quickly when they don’t become instant hits.

That hasn’t been the case with 2008’s “Life Death Love and Freedom,” one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 57-year-old Mellencamp’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career. It was also the first to be produced by T-Bone Burnett, one of the leading producers in rock and Americana music.

Mellencamp recently completed a tour of Australia and New Zealand and performed in the gala, pre-inauguration musical celebration for President Barack Obama in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. “That was cool,” he allowed, noting that Obama not only spoke directly to sons Hud and Speck, but knew their names.

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