WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (John Mellencamp Walks the Walk)

I spent Friday night watching back-to-back PBS broadcasts of ceremonies honoring the last two Gershwin Award winners. First up was this year’s honoree, Billy Joel, being feted at Constitution Hall. Second was a re-broadcast of an earlier shindig thrown for last year’s winner Carole King at the White House.

The star of King’s tribute was King herself, equally affecting whether she was beaming at the other performers from her front row seat, giving her acceptance speech, or rocking the house.

Joel’s tribute was, er, nice.

Amongst the stuff you always have to put up with at these things, there were genuinely nice performances from Boyz II Men, LeAnn Rimes, Natalie Maines, Joel himself.

All very apropo.

And, right in the middle of all that, John Mellencamp dropped by, wearing his Down-From-the-Mountain coat, which has been hanging on his shoulders–literally and figuratively–for so long it’s apparently turned into a second skin. I mean, I sure as hell couldn’t tell him from Woody Guthrie and that’s saying a little something, because Woody never got invited to this sort of thing.

Has he earned that sort of status?

Well, he was there to remind a room full of swells that the purely economic blight that settled over the land in the “go-go” eighties is with us still. I don’t know whose idea that was–Billy Joel, John Mellencamp, Jehovah. But, if the point was to emphasize the ultimate emptiness of all that pomp and circumstance, somebody knew what they were doing.

There’s no way to gauge the full impact of this outside of its context: the singer striding into the hall, saying his piece, ripping the heart from underneath a song that, on record, was, frankly, as slick a piece of pure product as ever came down the pike, holding it up for all to see, then–having cut the applause in half–walking off without looking back (apparently he walked straight out of the building, because he was noticeably absent from the standard-issue big finale where everybody gets on stage at once and sings the honoree’s signature tune)

But I think this answers the question.

Yeah, he’s earned that status.



4 thoughts on “WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (John Mellencamp Walks the Walk)

  1. I saw the show for Billy Joel. Loved it! Somehow, though, I know of him, John Mellencamp never really ……….imprinted on this ol’ brain of mine. Most likely the timing was wrong for me and Mellencamp! TCB!

  2. I thought it was a good show, too, but these things are always a bit self-satisfied in terms of the audience in the hall (there’s always an element of “i’m here to be seen.”) I thought Mellencamp’s performance punctured that, a rare thing…It’s not really typical of his recording style (which I love, too), but it was in line with his persona, which he wears well!

  3. I hadn’t seen this performance, John, but am really glad you shared it. I’m a big fan of Mellencamp doing his Mellencamp thing, so not surprising I dig it. But it was nice to be reminded that Joel had his moments, too.

  4. Hey, David. Happy to be of service! (lol) I think Mellencamp might be one of the very few performers who realizes that the eighties never really ended. They just got worse. I had actually enjoyed the show more than I usually do this sort of thing (enough that I kept watching which is rare). But this was literally shocking. Thank God for youtube…otherwise I’d probably still be thinking I dreamed it.

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