Mellencamp the “Iconic” Performer at First “Notes of Hope” Dinner

John Mellencamp provided the after-dinner performance for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center’s First Annual Notes of Hope Benefit Dinner, which took place last night at the cavernous Cipriani Wall Street in the heart of Lower Manhattan’s financial district, only blocks away from Ground Zero.

9-10-08 Notes For Hope Dinner, New York City, NY
Photo By Ronald L. Glassman

In marked contrast to the well-dressed, well-heeled attendees—including an ex-mayor and ex-governor and hundreds of high society Wall Street types and politicos—Mellencamp wore a simple black shirt with tails overlapping jeans atop engineer’s boots as he sang “Minutes to Memories,” “Longest Days” and “Pink Houses.”

9-10-08 Notes For Hope Dinner, NYC, NY
Photo By Ronald L. Glassman

The dinner, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, served as “part of the healing process of what will always be a somber week in New York” centering on the national tragedy that occurred here seven years ago tomorrow.

“Tonight, we honor and remember those we lost that day and pay tribute to the spirit of coming together that marked the days and months that followed,” said the Memorial & Museum’s president/CEO Joe Daniels, and the event accordingly reflected the sense of community that continues to fuel the area’s renewal. This spirit is embodied by the Distinction in Rebuilding award recipients Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff—founders of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan through the annual celebration of film, music and culture.

Accepting his award, De Niro offered the night’s most pointed comment in slamming those who have politicized the 9-11 horrors. The event’s only other political commentary was no doubt unintended: Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in hot water recently for expressing doubts about Sarah Palin’s qualifications without realizing her TV microphone was still on, drew gasps when she fell one syllable short of mistakenly saying Obama when introducing Lifetime Achievement recipient John Whitehead, a prominent businessman and founding chairman of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, whose impressive biography, as Noonan noted, also includes landing on Omaha Beach during the Invasion of Normandy.

Master of Ceremonies Denis Leary then introduced Mellencamp as the necessary “someone iconic” in stature to perform for the event. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Mellencamp noted how the meaning of “Minutes to Memories” had changed in the 26 years since he wrote it—“minutes to memories,” of course, now articulating the collective consciousness of a nation. He finished “Pink Houses” by getting many in the audience to sing along with the final chorus.

One attendee, major benefit sponsor Bank of America senior vice president Connie Verducci, didn’t need any prompting. Verifying her self-proclaimed status as a longtime Mellencamp fan, she rightly noted that the “future generations” that both Bloomberg and Leary had evoked in their remarks regarding the significance of the Memorial & Museum echoed the lyric in “Check It Out”:

A million young poets
Screamin’ out their words
Maybe someday
Those words will be heard
By future generations.

This remarkably parallels the “Notes of Hope” project, which incorporates the thoughts and reflections on 9/11 by thousands of Americans--for future generations.
--jim bessman

9-10-08 Notes For Hope Dinner, New York City, NY
Photo By Ronald L. Glassman