Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Songwriter George Green Dead At 59

Seymour, Indiana native George Green wrote the lyrics for some of John Mellencamp's greatest songs. The Bloomington Herald reports that he has succumbed to lung cancer in Albuquerquie, New Mexico where he has been living the last several years. He was 59. Mike Leonard reports on his death:

A Seymour native, Green was a classmate and childhood friend of Mellencamp’s and lived in Bloomington for many years before moving to New Mexico a decade ago.

“I’ve known George since we were in the same Sunday school class. We had a lot of fun together when we were kids. Later on, we wrote some really good songs together,” Mellencamp said this week. “George was a dreamer, and I was sorry to hear of his passing.”

Green co-wrote numerous songs with Mellencamp, including: “Human Wheels,” “Minutes to Memories,” “Hurts So Good,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “Key West Intermezzo.”

Other artists to record Green’s songs included Streisand, Jude Cole, Vanessa Williams, Hall & Oates, Gary Morris, Ricky Skaggs, Sue Medley and the Oak Ridge Boys.

“George Green was a superb lyricist who played an important role in moving John Mellencamp along the road to seriousness as a songwriter,” said Anthony DeCurtis, a longtime music writer and contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. “His plain-spoken, poetic touch lifted many of John’s songs, and, I believe, helped teach John what was possible for him to achieve as a writer. John eventually internalized those gifts himself, and George provided a close-at-hand model for how that could happen.”

One of the most compelling Green/Mellencamp collaborations, “Human Wheels,” was born out of a poem Green wrote as a eulogy delivered at the grave site upon the death of his grandfather. “He had no intention of using it as a song,” Mellencamp said in a 2008 interview. “He had me read it and I said, ‘These are the best lyrics you ever wrote.’ He said, ‘They’re not lyrics’ and I said ‘I can make them lyrics.’ I took it and kind of cut it up and wrote the chorus.”

Another song that was one of Green’s favorites was “Higher Ground,” which was recorded by several artists, including Streisand. It was the title track to her 1997 album, which became the eighth No. 1 album in her career. “That’s one he always told people he wrote as a Valentine to me,” said his widow, Kathryn. “That was very sweet of him.”

Green said he often wrote lyrics with a melody or rhythm in mind, but he would never divulge either when he’d turn in his lyrics to his publishers, which included industry giants EMI and Warner/Chappell Music. “The funny thing was, when he heard something finished and the musicians were done with their end of the collaboration, the melody and rhythm often matched what was going on in his head in the first place,” his widow said.
“He was such a perfectionist. He could labor over a word for days or even weeks,” she said. “It had to be exactly right. And he always worked until it was.”

Kathryn Green said her husband was inspired to love words and 20th century American literature by a high school English teacher in Seymour. He was an ardent reader and book collector and owned a complete collection of the first edition works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The longtime Bloomington resident suffered a serious heart attack in 1994 and learned then that he had a congenital deformity: his heart and the arteries supporting it were smaller than they should be. But his death was caused by a rapid-forming small cell lung cancer, his widow said. Doctors estimated that it took four weeks from the time the cancer began to his death Sunday afternoon at Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque.

Green was born Jan. 28, 1952, the son of Harvey Green and Lucille Dunn. Survivors include his wife, Kathryn; four children: Nicholas Green, Carrie Evans, Ian Green and Sarah Bolivar; and 16 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are being made by French Funerals Cremations of Albuquerque. A memorial service or celebration of life in Bloomington is being planned and will be announced at a later date.

The family also hopes to launch a memorial fund in Green’s honor for cardiac care at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
I had the pleasure of meeting George Green a number of years ago when he testified before a committee of the Indiana House of Representatives that was considering legislation that would have hampered the ability of songwriters to earn royalties on the publication of their songs. He came across as a very humble man who simply believed businesses who played his and other songwriters music in their establishments for the listening pleasure of their patrons should pay for the privilege of playing his music. Unlike performers, songwriters for their livelihood rely more heavily on the royalties that are collected by copyrighted music licensing organizations, which license businesses that play their copyrighted music in their businesses. His message was very simple, if not well-received by the legislators on the committee, who were more interested in casting votes for the Indiana Retail Council, which was pushing the legislation. I'll never forget the legislation's author telling me that he could care less whether songwriters like Green earned royalties from their music. The retailers contributed a lot of money to his campaign and they represented a far greater number of people than songwriters like Green he told me. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the legislature watered down the bill the author was carrying for the retail industry to the point of making it harmless, particularly considering that its transparent purpose was to usurp federal copyright law.

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