I hope you all had a good weekend. Lynley and I began ours Friday night with a chance to attend the CMT Crossroads taping of Darius Rucker and John Mellencamp. A friend of ours at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce passed along an email that stated there were some spots still available. It reminded me of a Dwyerwire (my old blog at News-2) entry I wrote back in 2009. Growing up in Indiana and following Mellencamp religiously, I’m sure he could have benefited from a Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program at Seymour High School but you could say things worked out for him. By the way, Indiana now has a great JAG state affiliate.
Here’s that blog entry:
It’s not good to meet your heroes, we’re told. They will disappoint you . I met John Mellencamp the other day. I’m an even bigger fan.
Silly, but I always believed our paths would cross. A local TV “head” always seems to “know somebody” that can get them tickets to a sold-out show or a chance meeting with a big-name star that passes through the area. I’ve had a few “near misses” with Mellencamp but the years were adding up and it still hadn’t happened.
Until my friend Timmy called.
Timmy and I worked together for several years in a past TV life. He now works at CMT and his assignment was to road trip to Bloomington to interview Mellencamp and Karen Fairchild. Karen is with the rising Country group “Little Big Town“. They sang a duet on the song “A Ride Back Home” (click HERE for video) from his “Life Death Love and Freedom” CD.
The video shoot took place at the Beck Chapel the heart of the Indiana University campus. It’s a quaint place that couldn’t hold more than 50 people. Tim’s assignment (along with his newly appointed “associate producer”) was to monitor a freelance crew videotaping the making of the video and then sit Karen and John down for a few questions.
It’s important to state right here that the “Forrest Gump” line about a box of chocolates is appropriate; “You never know watcha gonna get.” Big stars can be more fickle than a chameleon walking by a stained glass window.
What I got was one of the most memorable afternoons of my life.
I was doing my job very well of simply watching the shooting of the video and staying invisible until a woman approached me, stuck out her hand and said,
“Hi, I’m Elaine.” I replied, “Hi, I’m John Dwyer with the Country Music TV Channel.”
Actually, I only said that in my head multiple times on the 5-hour ride home. What I really said was,
“Uh, Hiya… I’m uh, John… here with my friend.. . I mean the guy over there.”
I’m sure Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp (UPDATE: they divorced in 2011 after 18-years of marriage) has has met plenty of guys that thought they had “game” and choked but it has probably been awhile since a guy dribbled the ball of his foot as clumsily as I did. I picture her turning her back and smirking with a “yeah, I still got it” grin every time I replay my response in my head.
A watched John and Karen “lip sync” the song no less than 20 times. After a half-dozen takes, the camera and lights would be reconfigured for another angle. During the breaks, Karen would grab her sweater and a bottled water or coffee and flirt with her super cool husband Jimi Westbrook (also a member of “Little Big Town”). John would walk outside for a smoke, an assistant always making sure he had his shades. Mellencamp’s custom three-piece black tuxedo with an ecru big-collared buttoned-down shirt looked crisp. Not once did he raise his voice or cop an attitude. (Although he did jokingly flip Karen “the finger” while she was goofing around with a digital camera and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t eerily similar to the infamous Johmny Cash picture taken some 50-years ago).
John’s longtime friends, who just happen to be members of his band; Mike Wanchic, Dane Clark and John Gunnell, would gather in the back of the chapel between filming sessions and shoot the breeze. I would bounce in and out of the chit-chat but couldn’t help but to gravitate toward Mike. He was the first person in the chapel when Tim and I walked in and he greeted us with genuine openness. Of course, it could have been that he was just looking for a distraction since his wife was in labor. I blew my cover when I asked him a few questions about how he and John met. Turns out they go back 31-years. So many great short stories he rattled off… for another time.
The shoot finally wrapped up. Indianapolis media grabbed John and Karen throughout the filming breaks. John’s manager, Randy Hoffman, kept assuring us that we would get time with them. Randy is a real pro and treated us as if we were much more important than what we were. He told us to move from the chapel to a conference room in the building next door for the interview.
Once the camera and lighting were set up, I was given my responsibility. I held a mini camera about three-feet from John and Karen to give editors another option when splicing the feature together. Timmy sat down and immediately put Karen and John at ease with relevant, thoughtful questions. I sat there with this camera perched between my knees and I listened to Karen and John explain how the union was born, and it’s clear early on that John is in a reflective mood. Timmy peppered him with questions about being a mentor and when he thought “he made it” and John opened up about specific songs and time frames in his life that a Mellencamp fan would find fascinating. I soaked it all in and before I knew it, 25-minutes had gone by.
Right after Mellencamp stood up and took his microphone off, I reached out my hand to say thanks. He gave me a firm hand shake while his other arm gave me a hard tap on the shoulder. A “guy’s guy” kind of gesture. He walked over to one of the walls that was covered with stenciled portraits of, I suspect, Indiana University donors. He stared at them and said, “These are really impressive.” Hoping to somehow engage in small talk, I stood next to him and asked what he specifically admired about them. He said the lines were so distinctive that they almost had to be traced and went off on a brief tangent about how great painters such as Renoir were masters at this. He said matter of factly, “You know I paint some.” I said, “Yeah, I knew that” (and about 5-million other things about you). I thanked him again he walked out of the room.
Thousands of pictures, hours of videotape and film were taken that day. Not one contains a picture of him and me. I just couldn’t bring myself to raise my cellphone camera or the small digital in my coat pocket. I didn’t want to be “that guy” that has special access and steps over a line (just like I’ve never asked a Titan for a picture or an autograph while on assignment).
So, there is no evidence that I was at the video shoot that day. I’m okay with that. Just know when you see the video on country music TV in a few months, there’s a lifelong Mellencamp fan that was there that day. Me.