HeraldTimesOnline: After a New York Bash, It's On To Cleveland For Mellencamp

By Mike Leonard
March 9, 2008

When Seymour native and Bloomington resident John Mellencamp is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday night in a glittering New York City ceremony, he’ll enter in a diverse class of performers including Madonna, the Dave Clark Five, the Ventures and Leonard Cohen.

The late bluesman Little Walter also will be inducted as a “sideman,” and soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff will enter the hall for their many years of success in fostering “The Sound of Philadelphia.”

The ceremony at the fabled Waldorf-Astoria will simply mark the beginning of Mellencamp’s enshrinement into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. From that day forward, the heartland rock star will forever reside in the company of performers including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and many of the top artists in the history of rock and popular music.

“He certainly has an excellent body of work he’s built up over the years,” museum curator Jim Henke said from Cleveland recently. “John Mellencamp not only represents Midwestern middle-class rock and roll, but in addition to his body of work, he’s done Farm Aid and always had a political perspective to his music and I admire that as well.”

The Hall of Fame and Museum is located on the shores of Lake Erie in a stunning, pyramid-shaped building designed by I.M. Pei, the architect who personally, or through his firm, is known for such modernistic buildings as the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, the Bank of China Tower and the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington. Cleveland put up $65 million in public money to help win the competition to be home to the rock hall of fame.

Several things happen when an artist enters the hall. Visitors entering the Hall of Fame wing of the museum are greeted by three giant video monitors that show a nonstop loop of induction ceremony highlights. Mellencamp and the other 2008 inductees will be added shortly after Monday’s ceremonies.

Just past the video display, a long corridor is lined with the backlit signatures of each member of the hall, etched in glass.

New inductees are showcased in small displays that Hall of Fame workers have been constructing during the past several weeks. “We have John’s exhibit sketched out and we’ll be installing it all next week,” Henke said in late February. “We have lots of things that John and some of his ardent fans have provided us. We have everything from a picture of his fifth-grade school choir to a couple of his guitars, some test pressings (of albums), a photo from his early, Johnny Cougar days — a pretty good variety.”

After artists pass from new inductees to veteran members, their memorabilia is put into storage and hauled back out for various themed exhibitions that the museum creates. A current exhibition groups artists by the cities with which they are associated: Memphis, Seattle, Liverpool, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London, for example.

Two major temporary exhibitions on display through this summer are devoted to The Doors and lead singer Jim Morrison, and to the Beatles and their movie, “Help.”

The museum attracts roughly a half-million visitors annually, said Henke, a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine before becoming the Hall of Fame’s curator. “I grew up in Cl eveland and so when I got the invitation to go back home and do this, what could I say?” he said with a chuckle. “I always thought rock and roll would be a hobby. Never did I dream it would turn into my life’s work.”
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