Louisville Courier Journal: Mellencamp Keeps Rocking

By Jeffrey Lee Puckett
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The Courier-Journal

Pete Townshend probably didn't mean to artistically castrate a generation of his peers when he wrote "Hope I die before I get old" in "My Generation," but the line inadvertently made the idea of rock 'n' rollers aging gracefully appear somehow unseemly.

While that notion has been consistently shot down in recent years by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Plant, we're still a little surprised when artists continue to be creatively vital long after they stop jumping off pianos.

John Mellencamp, who once looked as if he might burn himself out as a young man, has become a legitimate role model for anyone considering music as a career. He has not only survived growing up in public, but growing older, crafting a sparkling resume of music, artistic integrity and social responsibility.

It's also a resume that has earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He'll be inducted tomorrow night as part of a wildly diverse crew that includes Madonna, Leonard Cohen and the Dave Clark Five. Billy Joel will give Mellencamp's induction speech in ceremonies at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Mellencamp will also perform at the event, which will be telecast live on VH1 Classic and streamed live at www.bestbuy.com at 8:30 p.m.

"I'm very honored and pleased to be recognized this way, especially among people whom I greatly admire," Mellencamp said in a statement when his induction was announced.

Since the 56-year-old native of Seymour, Ind., and Belmont resident has always seemed like a semi-adopted son of Kentucky, we thought we'd honor his induction with a timeline detailing Mellencamp's rise from redneck glam rocker to activist to elder statesmen.

It's been a long, bumpy ride, but Mellencamp has emerged as a legitimate icon, and those don't come around too often.

1976 -- Mellencamp's first album, "Chestnut Street Incident," is released under the regrettable name Johnny Cougar. The album is also kind of regrettable, mixing covers and raw originals that ape established performers such as Springsteen and Bob Seger.

1978 -- Mellencamp moves to London for a year to record "A Biography," never released in the United States. The album included "I Need a Lover," which was No. 1 in Australia.

1979 -- Now established, he releases "John Cougar" in this country and re-releases "I Need a Lover," which is a No. 28 pop hit. Pat Benatar also records the song, which garners Mellencamp more attention.

1980 -- "Nothin' Matters and What If It Did" was classic early Mellencamp. The album was filled with rebellious posturing and aching romance and garnered two Top 40 hits in "This Time" and "Ain't Even Done With the Night." While it sounds somewhat dated, it holds up very well.

1982 -- Mellencamp becomes a star with the release of "American Fool" and ups the petulant quotient exponentially with a series of bad behavior. The album becomes the year's biggest seller on the strength of "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane."

1983 -- Mellencamp's contrary Little Bastard phase continues with "Uh-Huh" and major hits "Pink Houses" and "Crumblin' Down." He's one of the world's biggest stars, but he's also spinning his wheels in the maturity department, which was about to change in a big way.

1985 -- With the release of "Scarecrow" and the formation of Farm Aid, an organization to benefit American farmers, Mellencamp made one of rock's great leaps forward. The album's music was incendiary, and the socially aware lyrics revealed him as a compassionate thinker. Farm Aid turned him into an activist.

1990s -- This was Mellencamp's most musically volatile period, and also when he finally dropped the "Cougar" and went with his given name. He experimented with songwriting styles and production, working with DJ/producer Junior Vasquez and cutting tracks with Chuck D and India.Arie.

His superstardom faded, but he never went too long between hits. In '92, he made a movie, "Falling From Grace," and married model Elaine Irwin. He had a heart attack in '94 thanks to cigarettes and cholesterol. In '95 he headlined Farm Aid at Cardinal Stadium.

2004 -- He joins the Vote For Change Tour, performing with Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Jackson Browne, Dixie Chicks and My Morning Jacket. "Small Town" becomes John Edwards' campaign song. "Words and Music," a two-disc retrospective, is released.

2007 -- Mellencamp storms back up the charts with his "Freedom's Road" album, a Top 5 hit, and writes a critically acclaimed musical with Stephen King called "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County."

2008 -- Mellencamp will release "Life, Death, Love and Freedom," his 20th album, this summer.
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