October 17, 2013

Stephen King tells a ghostly story – with music

The musical collaboration is touring the nation’s heartland now.

By Malcolm X Abram
Akron Beacon Journal

AKRON, Ohio — Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett may seem like an unlikely triad of creativity for a musical.

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Musician John Mellencamp, left, and writer Stephen King talk about their collaboration at a press preview of the musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington, Ind.

The Associated Press

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Eric Moore, as Dan Coker, center, rehearses the musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington, Ind., this month. The musical by John Mellencamp, writer Stephen King and T Bone Burnett will debut in Bloomington on Thursday before embarking on a tour of 20 U.S. cities.

The Associated Press

Mellencamp, the heartland roots rocker who gave the world rock hits such as “Jack and Diane” and “Little Pink Houses” and Burnett, the Oscar and multiple Grammy award-winning producer extraordinaire, know music. King, master of the macabre, knows words – many spooky, scary words. But a musical stage play?

The “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” features veteran film and television actor Bruce Greenwood, a cast of 15 actor / singers and a four-piece band with members of Mellencamp’s current group under the direction of Burnett. It’s now touring several heartland states.

The creation of “Ghost Brothers” started about 13 years ago with an idea from Mellencamp, who wrote all the music and lyrics for the musical’s 17 songs.

Mellencamp began dreaming up “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” after he purchased a summer camp for his then young sons as a place for them to go and hang out. A local told Mellencamp that the camp was haunted by two drunken buddies who played a fatal game of William Tell. When one friend killed the other by accidently shooting him in the head, the naturally horrified shooter and his girlfriend hopped into a car to get help but the car crashed, killing them both.

Mellencamp skeptically investigated the story, discovered its veracity and the tale stuck with him. The Cain and Abel style plot became the basis for “Ghost Brothers’” macabre, spirit-filled story set in tiny, rustic Lake Belle Reve, Miss. It’s about ghostly brothers Jack and Andy, whose hatred for each other and lust after the same woman lead them to their mutual doom; their living nephews, Frank and Drake, who are heading down the same path; and their father, Joe, brother of the deceased, who has his own dark secret to reveal.

Mellencamp got the entire creative ball rolling with a simple phone call.

“He talked to his agent. They were in L.A. and he said ‘I have this idea for a play but I need someone to write the book,’” librettist Stephen King said from his home in Maine. “‘But it’s got to be somebody who can write something scary, you know, somebody like Stephen King.’

“And my agent, who is John’s agent, said I agent Steve and I’ll put you in touch. So he did, and John called me up and said I want to come down to (King’s home in) Florida and talk about it. ...”

The two celebrated artists had never met, knowing each only other through their catalogs. But when Mellencamp visited King in Florida, the writer received a sign that the potential partnership just might work out.

“My wife liked him and that’s a big point,” King said laughing.

“We all come from kind of the same environment. We’re kind of country mice, the three of us. And he sat there in my living room playing my guitar and John is John and he said, (approximating Mellencamp’s rough-hewn voice) ‘What have you been doing to this thing. It’s like you beat it up. It’s all out of tune.’ And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve got this rock star in my living room tuning my guitar,’” he recalled chuckling.

“And he told me the idea and I said to myself this is really kind of interesting and it was also scary. ... I embraced that idea because I’ve never done anything like that before and when you get to be a little bit older — and John feels the same way – you (like to) get out of your comfort zone a little bit and try something new.”

(Continued on page 2)

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