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Mellencamp: Legends exhibit goes live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Legends exhibit goes live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

CLEVELAND — John Mellencamp received a warmer welcome Thursday at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame than he did, at least initially, when he was inducted into the hall in 2008 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Mellencamp said he skipped the red carpet and tried to enter through a back entrance, where security stopped him because he didn’t have a pass. When he told the guard he was being inducted that night, he was greeted with a sarcastic, “Yeah, sure.’

“I was with my wife Elaine and went, ‘(expletive) it, Let’s go home,” he said.

Mellencamp eventually got in that night and was inducted by Billy Joel.

On Thursday the Rock Hall unveiled a new permanent addition dedicated to the Indiana rocker and frequent Mahoning Valley visitor in its Legends of Rock display on the main floor.

As part of the festivities, the Rock Hall declared it John Mellencamp Fan Day and several hundred of them crowded the main lobby of the Rock Hall to watch Mellencamp play a seven-song set with his band and answer questions from iHeartMedia’s Jim Kerr for his “Icons” radio show.

Kerr introduced Mellencamp as “one of the greatest artists we have ever experienced in our lives.”

Mellencamp responded, “Don’t believe a word he said, but I appreciate the acknowledgment. I only know how to do one thing and that’s …” and he counted the band in to start “Rain on the Scarecrow.”

“I Always Lie to Strangers” from his most recent album, “Strictly a One-Eyed Jack,” was part of the set, but Mellencamp primarily delivered the greatest hits, playing “Small Town,” “Check It Out,” a solo acoustic “Jack & Diane” that included plenty of audience participation, “Crumblin’ Down” and “Pink Houses.”

The Legends of Rock display includes a 1976 Fender Telecaster custom guitar that he regularly used for live performances as well as an acoustic guitar given to Mellencamp by David Bowie. Mellencamp and Bowie had the same manager, Tony Defries, who is the one who changed Mellencamp’s name to John Cougar, the moniker on his first couple records until Mellencamp had the clout to get it changed back to his real name.

Other items include a leather jacket Mellencamp frequently wore in the 1980s, a suit worn for promotional photos for his 2003 album “Trouble No More” and the studio tracking chart for the hit “Jack & Diane.”

Thursday’s event also was used to announce Mellencamp’s next tour, a 76-date trek with multiple shows in several markets, including two shows at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center on May 22 and 23, 2023, and a pair at Cleveland’s Connor Palace at Playhouse Square on May 25 and 26, 2023.

Tickets go on sale Friday.

It starts and ends in Mellencamp’s home state of Indiana with shows at Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington on Feb. 5 and 6, 2023, and a two-night finale at South Bend’s Morris Performing Arts Center on June 23 and 24, 2023. The tour will be sponsored by TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

“It’s the first time I’ve ever had a sponsor for a tour,” Mellencamp told Kerr. “Most people take sponsorships, but I’ve never really taken it because you have to do (expletive) I don’t want to do.”

But Mellencamp said he’s been a fan of the cable channel since it started, and it’s exposed him to so many great movies as well as the books and plays from which they were adapted.

Mellencamp has several other projects in the works. His next album is completed and will be titled “Orpheus Descending.” He didn’t give a release date, but it’s likely that it will coincide with the new tour.

On Nov. 4, Mercury Records will release a deluxe edition of Mellencamp’s acclaimed 1985 album “Scarecrow” that will include demos, alternate versions and a booklet of rare photographs and new liner notes.

That project was initiated by the record label, Mellencamp told Kerr.

“I don’t like to look back,” he said. “I wrote those songs a long time ago. I’m always thinking about what’s coming next instead of what’s happened, but if the record company deems that people want to have this collectors’ thing, that’s fine with me.”

While Mahoning Valley audiences have had plenty of opportunities to see Mellencamp on stage at the Covelli Centre, Stambaugh Auditorium and the Canfield Fair, they also know him as an artist who’s had exhibitions at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown in 2018 and at its former Trumbull branch in Howland in 2013.

One of Mellencamp’s paintings, the 2022 self-portrait “Backbone,” is on display at the Rock Hall, and a book of his art, “Mellencamp: American Paintings and Assemblages,” will be released Nov. 8.

In the “Legends of Rock” display, Mellencamp is quoted as saying that these days he considers himself a visual artist first and foremost.

“I paint now strictly for myself … I never intended to sell my paintings. I never intended to do anything with them except keep me off the streets … I paint to make life bearable. It’s that simple.”

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