JUNE 14, 2018
NORA GUTHRIE INDUCTED JOHN MELLENCAMP
INTO THE SONGWRITER'S HALL OF FAME, NYC
Induction speech by Nora Guthrie ~
"John Mellencamp has never shied away from telling us how he feels about things. Ultimately, I think that’s why we are here tonight to honor him. To honor an artist who’s been a consistent spokesman for those who are overlooked, passed over, or under reported.
My father, Woody Guthrie, once said, "There's several ways of saying what's on your mind. And in states and counties where it ain't any too healthy to talk too loud, speak your mind, or even to vote like you want to, folks have found other ways of getting the word around. I call it folk music.” John Mellencamp calls it …Rock n Roll.
When accused of his political leanings, my father wryly provoked his McCarthy accusers. “I ain’t necessarily a communist, but I been in the red all my life”. Or, “Yep. I’m a card-carrying common-ist.” But I think he was referring to his social security card.
Like my father, John Mellencamp’s songs have always deliciously embraced our common-ist experiences, but with a rock beat and melody so robust and vibrant, even a die hard conservative could dance to it. The teen daters, the street workers, the trucker travelers, the rock and roll lovers, the overworked and underpaid, mothers and fathers, the renters and the mortgage borrowers, the religious, and the angry atheists.
And, yes, he has provoked his critics. Sometimes, he still pisses them off. I really like that about him.
Tonight, I’d like to use my father’s mission statement as a way of summing up my great respect and, as an American, my gratitude for what John Mellencamp, as a songwriter, has brought to the table – well, to the vinyl:
“I hate a song that makes you think you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim. Too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you, on account of your bad luck, or hard traveling. No matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”
John has taken up this mantle for his entire career, never letting us down, never putting us down, never abandoning all those common-ists in their perpetual longing for visibility and air time. Confirming these values, he received the prestigious John Steinbeck award in 2012.
I think it’s fair to say that time has worked in John’s favor. He has never wavered in his artistic vision or bowed to passing trends in an attempt to pander to the masses, to follow the money, or to follow the charts and chase what would be to him, a hollow success. In fact, it took more than a little while for him to be appreciated as the consummate songwriter we are honoring tonight.
John was born in Seymour Indiana, a town known as the Crossroads of America, where the east/west train tracks cross the north/south tracks. What a perfect image for John – the postcard he could use - sent from a musician who has spent just about 5 decades now as an American troubadour, traveling to the ends of all these tracks, carrying all of us as his luggage, singing for and about all of US.
He began making records in the 70s, but it was in the 80s that he got everyone’s attention with his American Fool album. Everyone in this room knows the hits: Pink Houses, Jack and Diane, Rain on the Scarecrow, Small Town, Paper In Fire, Peaceful World. A seemingly endless list of chart toppers that artfully integrate social commentary into joyful rock’n’roll.
Then there are the songs that we used to call ‘deep album cuts’; the ones that command our attention on a deeper level and help explain John’s longevity and continuing influence among young songwriters and recording artists. Human Wheels, Jackie Brown, Longest Days, Save Some Time To Dream, Troubled Man, If I Die Sudden, Easy Target.
John has written hundreds of meaningful, insightful and powerful songs that ripple with feelings that we all know, songs that comprise one of the most singular and important bodies of work in music. Tonight, we recognize that John Mellencamp - persistently and doggedly anchored to his own unique identity and talent – now holds his own among the great songwriters.
And finally … just one last thought. What with all these celebrities going into politics lately, you know, my father once proposed: "What we need is a singing Senator. One that could bring down the house." What about it John?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to induct John Mellencamp into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame."