Jackson County Banner: Mellencamp Selected To Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

On March 10, 2008 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will hold its 23rd annual induction ceremony at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Among those to be welcomed into music’s most recognizable fraternity will be Jackson County native John Mellencamp.

Mellencamp is best known for his pop hits like: “Pink Houses,” “Hurts So Good,” “Jack and Diane,” and “Small Town.” However, it is his depiction of common life in lesser-known tracks such as “Jackie Brown” that has helped him carve out his niche as a champion of the working-class everyman. Throughout his career, Mellencamp has tackled controversial topics that many artists tend to shy away from with the fear that the backlash could tarnish their image. Politics, racial inequality, and the evaporation of family farms have been woven into the fabric of Mellencamp’s simple, yet poetic, lyrical style for the better part of three decades. His accomplishments have vaulted the artist into the same precious category of some of rock’s most enduring performers such as Bob Seger, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan.

It was not an easy path for Mellencamp on his way to the top. With his writing style rooted in the early days of rock-n-roll and the traditional troubadour attitude of the purest of folk and Americana, Mellencamp struggled in the early 80’s to find a record label that believed there was a market for his art in a time when the music industry was being dominated by overproduced glam-rock, punk, and electronic dance music. Despite overwhelming odds, Mellencamp sold off his worldly possessions and headed to New York with the belief that he had what it took to make his dream a reality.

Donna Cowles of Medora is a close friend and former employee of the artist and the widow of Mellencamp’s former head of security, Tracy Cowles. She remembers all-too-well how tough the artist had it when he first set out. “John struggled at first when he went to New York to see about getting a record deal. He sold off everything he owned to get the money to go, and I mean everything. I remember Tracy and I bought a lamp from him way back then. All of Seymour kind of laughed at him. They didn’t think he’d make it at all, but he fooled them,” Cowles said. After her husband died, Cowles went to work for Mellencamp as his nanny, traveling with the artist and tending to his two young sons, Hud and Speck. “After Tracy died, John wanted to help me. He knew I was depressed about Tracy’s death and I think he thought it would help keep my mind off of things. In the year I spent working for John I got to do a lot of things I would’ve never been able to do if I hadn’t been the boys’ nanny,” Cowles said.

With numerous hits and millions of records sold, it’s been perplexing to many of his fans that it has taken this long for Mellencamp to be selected for the hall of fame. Tim Elsner, Mellencamp’s business manager for the past twenty-four years, was glad to hear that this would be the year that Mellencamp was acknowledged as one of music’s best artists. “I think it was about time that he got in. It was surprising that it took this long for someone with his credentials to get in,” Elsner said.

Many artists never find themselves enshrined among the business’s elite in Cleveland, but Mellencamp has earned his spot with the drive and talent to keep working rather than rest on his early accomplishments. “I’ve heard him [Mellencamp] say countless times over the years that the trouble with most people is that they give up too quickly. That they don’t have the drive and energy to keep at it long enough to reach success,” Elsner continued.

Drive, talent, and energy are qualities that Mellen-camp has in abundance as he continues to tour, record, and inspire his legions of faithful fans. It’s only fitting that Mellencamp returns to New York in March to receive an honor he so richly deserves.