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Author Topic: After Image/IU Commencement Article  (Read 5347 times)
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« on: December 02, 2010, 11:25:49 pm »

May 5, 2000

'Rock doctor' Mellencamp speaks

By Mike Leonard

By his own reckoning, John Mellencamp has been "working
like a dog" the past few weeks, but not, as one might
expect, on the commencement address he will deliver at
Indiana University on Saturday.

"I'm learning sign language for a movie role I'm playing,
and that's about all I've been doing for the last
couple of weeks," he explained when reached at his Lake
Monroe-area home Wednesday.

The commencement address?

"I haven't written it yet," he confessed. "I already
know what I'm talking about. I'll write it tomorrow."

Mellencamp will draw on the experiences of his lengthy
career in popular music for his commencement theme.
"I'm going to talk about how there's no reward in life
settling for something you don't want," he said. "If
you don't do that, you don't have to go through 25
years of telling people, 'No, my name is not John

The Seymour native and Vincennes University graduate
was a raw and unknown commodity when he traveled to
New York City in 1975, hooked up with the manager
Tony Defries and the MainMan management company that
also handled "space oddity" David Bowie and soon
found himself renamed Johnny Cougar.

"It's a constant reminder that as a kid, I made
some mistakes," Mellencamp said.

Not only was the young singer and band leader from
Indiana saddled with a name he did not choose or
want   he would learn later that he had signed away
most of the rights to his early music and that he
would continue to pay out a percentage of his income
from yet-to-be-created music for the next two decades.

Although he loathes the memory of the derision that
accompanied the cheesy Cougar moniker, Mellencamp
grudgingly concedes that the name stood out and
probably did do something positive for his career.
"Yeah," he said, "it was a good thing in a heart
attack way."

That was a droll reference to his own heart attack
in 1994, a traumatic experience, to be sure, but
one that has paid appreciable benefits in forcing
him to begin and maintain an exercise program,
pay attention to his diet and moderate his three-
pack-a-day smoking habit.

The 48-year-old Mellencamp proved both the vitality
of his health and his place in popular music last
year with an extensive tour schedule that averaged
more than 13,000 fans a show. When he finished off
1999 with a New Year's Eve celebration at Conseco
Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, he pledged to take some
significant time off.

That time off ended a little more quickly than the
Hoosier rock icon expected.

In March, Mellencamp delivered what one reviewer
called a "rambling, profane and funny introduction
speech for the Lovin' Spoonful" when that band,
Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and James Brown were
among those feted at the 15th annual Rock & Roll
Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria
hotel in New York.

The movie for which Mellencamp is learning American
Sign Language is tentatively titled After Image, and
shooting is scheduled to begin in Rochester, N.Y.,
Wednesday. "The guy I play (a crime scene
photographer) falls in love with a deaf girl, which
is why I need to learn sign language," he said. "The
people making the film are into the deaf community.
They don't want me to go up there and look like a
piano player who can't play piano."

Oscar winner Louise Fletcher will also star in the
film, which will mark Mellencamp's second foray into
filmmaking. He also starred in a 1992 movie, Falling
From Grace, which was written by acclaimed novelist
and screenplay author Larry McMurtry.

It won't come as a surprise if the singer,
songwriter, painter and actor makes reference to
his upcoming acting challenge when he speaks at
IU's 171st commencement ceremony Saturday. "You
always have to be ready to reinvent yourself," he
mused this week. "I would never have survived 25
years in the entertainment business if I couldn't
reinvent myself. If you don't keep moving, you get
left behind."

The dual honors of being asked to deliver IU's
commencement speech and to be named an honorary
doctor of music are not lost on the occasionally
dismissive Mellencamp. "The part I like the best
is that they asked the students and the
students wanted me, that's really the most
gratifying part.

"I've been very fortunate, that's all I can say," he
concluded. "Fifteen years ago this would have been
something I would have never entertained the idea of
doing or even imagined the opportunity to do. I
think it's great."
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