John Mellencamp Community
November 23, 2014, 08:10:23 am
on: Today at 12:58:09 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|Mellencamp: 'Ghost Brothers' not your usual musical
"I don't play well with the other kids. Never have, nor do I have any desire to," says John Mellencamp, the unapologetically ornery singer-songwriter behind '80s radio anthems like "Pink Houses" and "Jack & Diane."
That's why no one was more surprised than Mellencamp when he began collaborating with horror novelist Stephen King on a musical theater project. The resulting "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," set in a haunted Southern cabin, stops at the Fisher Theatre on Wednesday.
Since its 2012 debut in Atlanta, the show has been touring the country in single-night performances. Mellencamp, whose tunes are performed by cast members and a four-person band (he isn't in the show), describes it as less a traditional musical and "more like a rock show where we're here for one night and then we move on."
Talking by phone, the 63-year-old singer-songwriter says the project was in the works for more than a decade and grew out of the mutual admiration he and King have for each other.
"He had liked a couple of my records, and I had a couple of signed copies of his books, but we really didn't meet until much later in our careers," he says.
Drawing on the haunted history of a cabin he owned in Indiana, Mellencamp sent King his ideas for the "Ghost Brothers" story. "But that was just the germ of the idea," the musician says. "After the story I told Steve, the synopsis I got back was probably as far away as it could get. That's because he brought so much of himself into it."
Now set in the Mississippi backwoods, the show links some of King's familiar horror themes and also draws some inspiration from playwright Tennessee Williams. "How did he (Williams) create these memorable characters like Stanley Kowalski and Stella DuBois? That's what our conversations were about," Mellencamp says.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," which debuted at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in April 2012, centers on two young brothers who find their animosity trumped by the spirits of ghostly ancestors who fought bitterly over a girl 40 years earlier. Throughout the production, an evil spirit called the Shape circles the stage, serving as a narrator of sorts while singing about heaven and hell.
The show opened more than two years ago to mixed reviews, with many critics zeroing in on King's story for being rambling. There was more consistent praise for Mellencamp's moody blues-roots musical score, which includes nearly 20 new songs produced by music biz legend T Bone Burnett.
Mellencamp doesn't mince words in describing his feelings about the Atlanta production. "It ran for, like, four weeks, and we couldn't hardly wait for it to get over," he says. "It was done like a Broadway musical with dancing, and we decided we needed to step back and adjust this thing so that it's not a musical. It's a play with music, which is quite different."
"We thought: 'How do you tell Steve's story without a lot of sets and lights and stuff getting in the way?' And we didn't need to present my songs in this Broadway fashion. So right off the bat, we're going against the grain. We really wanted to create a new experience for the viewer."
"Ghost Brothers" has been barnstorming the country since last year, and there are hopes it will eventually land on Broadway. Among the familiar names in the cast are Gina Gershon ("Killer Joe," "The Insider") and Billy Burke (who played Kristen Stewart's father in the "Twilight" movies).
Mellencamp believes the current stripped-down version of the show requires more imagination on the part of the audience and performers. "If you could imagine a radio play from the 1930s or '40s, how would you do that today?" he muses.
"Even the actors get confused. They say: 'How am I supposed to do this when I don't have a prop? I don't really have a gun.' Really, it's about creating memorable characters and an entertaining story without 10,000 props. And the audience has to be involved. This is not something you want to bring a book to."http://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/music/2014/11/23/john-mellencamp-ghost-brothers-darkland-county/70029156/
on: November 21, 2014, 01:50:27 pm
Started by PlainSpoken - Last post by bradsanders56
Perfect song except for the sha-la-la-la part. I cringe every time.
My interpretation of the "sha-la-la-la-la" part:
The character has lost hope of his lover returning to him. He has even lost hope of her returning a letter. His thoughts are of hope that she will return a letter, but then his thoughts get so desperate and dismayed, "sha-la-la-la-la" is all can think to mutter.
These are just my thoughts. You are welcome to disagree. By the way, I love Tears in Vain.
on: November 20, 2014, 12:24:28 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|Billy Joel honored in DC at Gershwin Prize concert
By Mike Snider, USA TODAY
He's the Piano Man — but Billy Joel is also one particularly decorated man.
In a star-studded concert at DAR Constitution Hall, just blocks from the White House, Joel, 65, was honored Wednesday night with the Gershwin Prize, awarded by the Library of Congress to composers and performers for their lifetime contribution to popular music. (The concert will air on PBS stations nationally at 9 p.m. on Jan. 2.)In good company
: Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp, Boyz II Men, Gavin DeGraw, Josh Groban, Natalie Maines, LeAnn Rimes and Kevin Spacey were all on hand to celebrate the music legend, while Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and past Gershwin winner Paul McCartney appeared in video greetings. "You are such a treasure, a national treasure," Taylor said of Joel.
"I'm flabbergasted to be included in this group," Joel said in a pre-recorded clip during the show. "I haven't quite got my head around it yet." Joel, as the sixth top-selling artist of all time, is no stranger to accolades. Earlier this week, he was among five artists honored in New York with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Centennial Awards at a gala at New York's Waldorf Astoria.Inside the Beltway
: Joel watched the ceremony flanked by Librarian of Congress James Billington, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Master of ceremonies Spacey, who plays a conniving politician on the Netflix series House of Cards, welcomed members of Congress. "I think even a man like Frank Underwood would be excited about a night like tonight."Slow it down
: R&B crooners Boyz II Men delivered a resonant a cappella version of The Longest Time
, and waved to Joel as they departed. An earnest, elegant rendition of Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
by a luminescent Rimes mesmerized the packed crowd to silence.Put your hands together
: After Rimes' solemn treatment, DeGraw got the crowd clapping — and made first use of the band — to a muscular version of It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
from Joel's Glass Houses
(1980), the singer/songwriter's seven-times-platinum answer to the then-rising new wave.Singing for something
: Following Maines' belting of a countrified She's Got a Way
, Mellencamp served up a stripped-down Allentown
, a song about the sagging hopes of Pennsylvania steelworkers. "I bet you all didn't know Billy was a protest singer," Mellencamp said. "He was, and he is, and we are going to prove it right here."Just dance
: Earlier in the night, a dance ensemble from producer and choreographer Twyla Tharp's Tony Award-winning Movin' Out
, featuring songs from Joel's extensive catalog, performed a lively number to a medley from the musical. Tharp said Joel "never wavered" on letting her create dance interpretations of his music.NYC to D.C.
: Iconic vocalist Tony Bennett had the crowd cheering mid-song with the chorus of New York State of Mind
and earned a standing ovation after his strong delivery. "Billy, congratulations!" he hollered to Joel, who had left his seat to prepare for his own performance.Honoring a legend
: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined Billington onstage to present the award, along with Pelosi and Sotomayor, who introduced Joel as "Long Island's favorite son, even if he is a Mets fan."Old songs, new hardware
: Before ripping into his own version of Movin' Out
at the end of the night, Joel placed the award on his piano and buffed it, then took his place at the keyboard. "It's been a hell of a year," he said. "A bounty of blessings. I want to ensure everyone I don't have a terminal illness. And don't intend to have one for a long time." Following Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
and You May Be Right
, Spacey emerged. "Billy, we took a poll backstage, and the consensus is that you left one song out."
As Joel began Piano Man
, Spacey helped out on harmonica, while other performers joined in. And as Spacey had the willing audience sing along to the final chorus, another crowd forgot about life for awhile.http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/11/19/billy-joel-gershwin-prize-concert/19254709/
on: November 20, 2014, 12:04:13 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|Mellencamp, King team for gothic ‘Ghost Brothers’
By Jay Lustig
You’ve got to be a bit patient with the musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country,” a collaboration between Stephen King (who wrote the story and the dialogue) and John Mellencamp (who wrote the songs), with help from musical director T Bone Burnett.
It’s being promoted as “A southern gothic supernatural musical of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.” Yes, there’s a lot going on here, and it takes most of the first act to set everything up. But once everything is in place, the first act closing number, “Tear This Cabin Down,” is truly rousing.
The second act of the musical — which was presented at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Tuesday night — has a similar pace. There’s a lot of water-treading early on, but King comes through with some nice twists towards the end, after some masterfully constructed misdirection. This musical is not enthralling all the way through, but you don’t leave feeling unsatisfied, either.
And it’s really a must-see for Mellencamp fans. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has written a strong batch of roots-rock songs, and four members of his band provide the musical backbone. Some of the actors — especially Jesse Lenat, in the narrator-like role of the Zydeco Cowboy — speak or sing in an approximation of Mellencamp’s midwestern accent, even though the play is set in Mississippi. You really sense Mellencamp’s rough-edged, forceful-but-dark artistic voice throughout, even though he’s not onstage.
Here’s the plot: Joe and Monique McCandless (Billy Burke and Gina Gershon) are the parents of two brothers who love the same woman, and hate each other. Joe has a dark secret in his past: his own two brothers also loved the same woman, and hated each other, and died under mysterious circumstances decades ago. Will history repeat itself?
Joining the present day characters and the Zydeco Cowboy are ghosts of the departed brothers and the woman they loved, plus a satanic character named Shape (played for outrageously over-the-top laughs by Jake La Botz, in a break from the rest of the musical’s somber tone) and others. There are 16 actors, plus the four musicians; as I said before, it takes a while to sort everything out.
The musical is staged to appear something like an old-fashioned radio play, with characters sitting onstage throughout the whole thing, but coming forward to speak at the center-stage mic, or act out scenes. When Shape isn’t slithering around the stage, there isn’t much movement; basically, the characters just stand in place. And they spend a lot of time talking or singing about themselves, or telling stories, or bickering with each other; this all slows the evening down.
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” was presented at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2012, and toured for about a month last year; the current month-long tour includes a show at the Beacon Theatre in New York, Nov. 24 (visit BeaconTheatre.com for information). A soundtrack — produced by Burnett and featuring artists such as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Taj Mahal and Rosanne Cash singing the songs — came out last year.
Is a Broadway run in its future? Well, given the drawing power of the names involved, I wouldn’t be shocked. But it could still use an overhaul before that. The radio-show idea should be scrapped: It doesn’t add anything. And there needs to be more action and fewer songs and scenes that go back over things that have already been established.
But Mellencamp and King have already been working on this thing for 15 years. How much more fine tuning are they willing to do?http://www.njarts.net/theater/mellencamp-king-team-gothic-ghost-brothers/
on: November 15, 2014, 01:51:11 pm
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|With ‘Ghost Brothers,’ Mellencamp meets King
By Joel Brown
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” hasn’t made it to Broadway, at least not yet. But the musical by Stephen King and John Mellencamp hits Boston for a single performance Friday night at the Colonial Theatre, having started its monthlong national tour in King’s neck of the woods, in Orono, Maine.
With a book by King and songs by Mellencamp, “Ghost Brothers” offers a dark tale of the family ties that bind in small-town Mississippi, as Joe Mc-Candless recounts the tragedy that befell his two older brothers 40 years earlier and hopes his two sons won’t meet the same fate. Billy Burke (Bella’s father in the “Twilight” saga) and Gina Gershon now star as Joe and Monique McCandless. Much of the rest of the cast returns from the show’s premiere run at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2012. There’s also a four-piece band to play Mellencamp’s roots-music songs.
Mellencamp got on the phone recently from his home in Indiana to talk about the show. It turns out we owe its existence to, of all people, ABBA.Q. What’s it like to work on a project for 14 or 15 years?
A. Well, you know, art is never really completed, it’s just abandoned. I have songs that have been hit records that I hear on the radio that I think, oh, [expletive], I wish I would have written a different last verse for that thing. But I had to put the song out. I have a song called “Pink Houses” that if I could write that song now, then I would have a much better ending. [Laughter.] With Steve and I, we have the ability to keep working on this. So until Steve and I are happy with what’s going on, and we feel OK, this is the best representation of what we’re doing, then we’re going to keep working on it. We might be talking again in five years, and you’ll go, “Hey, you guys are still working on this thing, huh?”Q. Did you have much experience with musical theater growing up?
A. My older brother was the star of all the musicals back in the ’60s when I was growing up. He was five years older than me, and they did stuff like “Kismet” and “South Pacific,” very ambitious things for a high school production. And my older brother Joe always had the lead. So I was forced to go to those things whether I wanted to or not, and consequently ended up liking those things. I’ve gone to Broadway shows and plays, and I’m interested in Tennessee Williams and all kinds of writers.Q. What was the impetus for you to get involved with this project?
A. Life is full of opportunities, you know? And I’m always looking for trouble. The original invitation for me was about 15, 20 years ago. “Mamma Mia!” [the musical based on ABBA songs] had become very successful on Broadway, and Broadway being the lemmings that they are, they thought, “Wouldn’t it be good if we find more people to do this with!” They came to me and said, “John, would you be interested in taking some of your hit records and we’ll make a story around them?” And I said, “No, I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in looking backward. But if you guys want to create something new, with new songs and new stories.” And I said I have some stories in my head, that if I knew Stephen King, he could really take them and make a great story out of it. And my agent looked at me and said, “That should be easy to do, because Steve’s my client.”Q. How have you had to change your working method for this?
A. Really the only difference was there’s an assignment — “We need this here.” I’m a professional songwriter. It’s what I do. Steve and I made the decision that he was going to tell the story and I was going to do the character development in the songs, which is quite different from most Broadway shows. Most musicals, the songs are meant to move the story forward. But we approached it the same way “My Fair Lady” was done.Q. You seem heavily involved in all aspects of the show, not just the songs.
A. Steve and I are actually the producers, so we kind of have final say on everything. I was just on the phone with the wardrobe department before I talked to you. I am interested in creating characters that people won’t forget, and that has a lot to do with what they have on. I’m trying to convince the guy who’s playing the lead character to wear an eye patch. And he said to me, “There’s nothing in the libretto about an eye patch.” And I said, So? You put that eye patch on, and it’ll be like you’re carrying a monkey on stage every time you walk on. Everybody will look at you. If somebody’s doing a scene and you walk out with a [expletive] monkey, who they gonna look at? The guy holding the monkey! Or the guy with the eye patch. The audience will create a back story, even if it’s not in Steve’s libretto. I haven’t even talked to Steve about it. That’s the way it’s done around here. [Laughter.]Q. You’re about to go on tour behind your new album, “Plain Spoken.” Has 15 years of working on “Ghost Brothers” affected your own music?
A. Any time you write something, there’s always something to be learned, from the last song, the last chord structure, the last melody. I can’t put my finger on anything, but creating is about learning from your last endeavor. So yeah, I would imagine there was some stuff I learned from “Ghost Brothers” that went onto my new record.http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-dance/2014/11/15/with-ghost-brothers-john-mellencamp-forms-kinship-with-stephen-king/cmo56U4PPOKHmNfjODdjaJ/story.html
on: November 14, 2014, 12:34:10 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|Mellencamp and King's 'Ghost Brothers' comes to the Merriam
By A.D. Amorosi, For The Inquirer
John Mellencamp is having a busy autumn. Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
, the Southern Gothic musical he wrote with novelist Stephen King, is playing Thursday night at the Merriam Theater. And he also has a new album out: Plain Spoken
, his first studio album in four years.
Missed opportunities, confused identity, the disintegration of the self and the land, wronged romance - these elements define what Mellencamp, 63, calls his "fragile little folk songs" and his signature bittersweet disillusionment, whether in Ghost Brothers
or in his new album.
There's some talk that Plain Spoken
is about Mellencamp's personal life, and it annoys him. Still, "Tears in Vain" does speak of divorce (which he knows about, having concluded his third in 2011), and "Lawless Times" seems to be about the frustrations of being a professional musician in an era of download piracy. "My songs are never about me," Mellencamp says. "Songs must be universal. I'm not that interesting." If a lyric like "too late came too early" (from "Troubled Man") sounds like it springs from personal frustration, Mellencamp says it's a human constant: "I have to write so that everyone feels as if I'm reading their diary.
On the other hand, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
does stem from a tale near to Mellencamp, a true story he told to his pal King more than 16 years ago. Mellencamp bought a piece of property in Indiana that included an old log cabin. Soon after purchase, he received a letter from previous owners saying, as he tells it, " 'By the way, the house is haunted,' which was followed by articles clipped from newspapers from the late '30s stating someone was killed in that house."
Does he believe in spooks? "No." But did he experience the haunting? "Uhm, yeah. There was something strange in there. We got rid of [the cabin], and the guy who bought it gutted it. I drove by it a couple of years ago, and it was gone."
Sounds like perfect fodder for King, the man behind horror classics such as The Shining and Misery. Their chat turned into a story with songs. King turned Mellencamp's story into a tale of two brothers in love with the same woman, and how that triangle took them - and their ancestors - into what sounds like a ring of Hell. Mellencamp wrote dusky, very un-Broadwaylike songs, played not by a full orchestra but by one or two singers with guitars. Famed producer T Bone Burnett provided the show's musical direction.
"Stephen and I decided that the songs would not move the story forward in traditional Broadway fashion," Mellencamp says. "We used them as character development. It's not" - he sings - "Jesus Christ Superstar."
The production, now touring, is still in process, with King and Mellencamp changing lines and readings with actors/singers Gina Gershon, Carlene Carter, and Billy Burke - who form the present production's cast - right up until showtime.
"Art is never done," Mellencamp says, "just abandoned."
Each song, he says, had to meet specific criteria: "Is it answering the emotion of the moment - and can it be taken out of the show and played by itself, by me? I wanted Ghost Brothers to sound as if each tune came out of my songbook."
As for Plain Spoken
, it was a "whole different job," one he feels he's gotten better at doing: "I've been doing this long enough that I'm finally able to get out of my own way, allow songs to come to me and through me."
In the past, Mellencamp often merely "directed traffic," forcing lyrics where they might not go organically. He points to 1983's "Pink Houses" and its last verse:
Well, there's people and more people
What do they know, know, know
Go to work in some high rise
And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico
And there's winners and there's losers
But they ain't no big deal
'Cause the simple man, baby
Pays for thrills
The bills the pills that kill
"Those lines are phony-baloney to me," he now says. "I directed traffic. If I had to rewrite that now, it would have a different outcome."
Mellencamp may change that song and other hits when he plays the Merriam June 16, as part of a long tour behind Plain Spoken
. "Can't say, because I change lyrics all the time. What I can guarantee is that all of the songs will sound as if they come from Plain Spoken and not the 22-year-old me."
Whether for Ghost Brothers
or for Plain Spoken
, Mellencamp's lyrics are taut and economical. Telling stories starkly, in Hemingwayesque fashion ("Now, that's a compliment," he says), is all a part of what he calls "age-appropriate songwriting."
In his hitmaking past, Mellencamp says, he filled fragile little folk songs ("even something like 'Hurt So Good'") with a big rocking band, because he wanted the song to be on the radio. "Now I'm not ball-and-chained to that," he says, matter-of-factly, "because I'm not going to be on the radio. They don't play people my age. There's no format for me or something like Ghost Brothers, and that's just fine."http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20141113_Mellencamp_and_King_s__Ghost_Brothers__comes_to_the_Merriam.html#lZoKY6LfpROjAbEA.99
on: November 14, 2014, 12:25:44 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|Q&A: John Mellencamp on his Stephen King collaboration, 'Ghosts Brothers of Darkland County'
By Chris Kaltenbach
John Mellencamp has been putting stories to music for nearly four decades. In that sense, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" is nothing new for the 63-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Nothing new, that is, except that he has a collaborator for one of the few times in his career. And that his collaborator is Stephen King, the most prolific (and successful) horror writer of modern times.
And that he's not just writing songs, but writing songs for a rock musical in which a father takes his two feuding sons to a cabin where his brothers met their deaths while battling over a girl. Billy Burke (the "Twilight" saga) and Gina Gershon? ("Killer Joe") lead the cast.
The show at 7:30 p.m. Sunday Nov. 16 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric is on a cross-country tour that began Nov. 3 in Maine and ends Dec. 6 in San Francisco. In the past week, it’s been performed in Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington and Durham, N.C.
We caught up with Mellencamp during a rare 15 minutes of down time at his Indiana home, and he was glad to share his thoughts on collaborating, writing for the stage and whether there are any trips to Baltimore in his future.This musical looks like it was about 12 years in the making. Tell us a little bit about how the process got started and why it took so long to get it all together.
It's actually like 16 years. It's a work in progress. You have a book writer who's never written a musical, and you have a guy who's been in a rock band, basically ... doing something that they've never done. So it was a huge learning curve for us.
We started in Atlanta, where the show was done basically in a traditional Broadway style. After that run, we decided, "Listen, we don't like this. We don't like dancing and we don't like this many props, this many sets. How can we pare this down?"
To make a long story short, it's not really a musical. It's a play with music. ... Steve and I can look at what is going on, see what adjustments we want to make. This is an art project that Steve and I will have to decide, at some point, "OK, we're ready for this thing to be called done."Is this very much still a work in progress?
Art is never really complete. I hear my songs on the radio — I had a song many years ago called "Pink Houses." And I hear that song, and it's like, "Dammit, I wish I'd done a better job on that last verse."
So this thing will only be done when Steve and I go, "It's done." He'll continue to make changes, I'll make changes. That's what art is. It's just constantly in motion.You may be the only person in the world who thinks "Pink Houses" still needs to be tweaked. I guess you have that right.
Well, thank you for saying so.How about the process of songwriting for a play vs. songwriting for albums and for singles? Did you find it a very different process?
First of all, when you make a record and your name's on it — I don't know why this is, but people think that the songs are about you. And I don't know why they think that. But the songs have never been about me on my records. I'm the guy singing the song, but it's always been observation or channeling. You get an idea for no apparent reason and you write it down.But writing songs for "Ghost Brothers," Steve would call me up and go, "Look, this is where I'm at with this, and we need some character development so people know why they're doing this. Can you write a song that speaks to this part of the person's character?"
It was like almost an assignment. And I found it to be easier than writing songs just for John Mellencamp. It was like you had a specific goal in mind, there was something happening, you knew what was happening, you knew what was going to happen. So how can this person speak about themselves inside this situation?
There was a record T Bone Burnett produced, [recorded] about three years ago with where the show was at that point. The show has evolved immensely since that album came out.So it would be a different album if it came out today?
There would be some different songs, yes. Kris Kristofferson played the father on the album. Well, the father now is a hell of a lot meaner guy than Kris played him. He's a lot meaner, and the mother's a lot crazier than Meg Ryan played her. Meg played the mother kind, but now she's not kind at all.You've been doing rock concerts for some 40 years now — you've certainly made your mark there. Are you ready to be known as John Mellencamp, Broadway impresario?
I don't think that's ever going to happen.
I didn't ever really worry about being called "the Voice of the Heartland" or something like that, because it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that I'm working and that I'm being an artist. I've got to create the same way that you've got to eat. I get up in the morning, and it's just like, "OK, I've got to get busy," whether it's on a painting or writing a song.Any chance you'll be coming to Baltimore yourself?
Maybe. It just depends on how we feel the show is going. I'm going to be playing in Baltimore. I'm getting ready to do 80 shows starting in January myself, and I'm pretty sure Baltimore is on the playlist.http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bs-ae-darkland-20141113-story.html
on: November 14, 2014, 12:21:03 am
Started by walktall2010 - Last post by walktall2010
|John 'Cougar' Mellencamp brings Southern twist to broadway
By Geoffrey Himes/ The Washington Post
When "Mamma Mia!," the ABBA-inspired stage musical, became a big hit in London and New York more than a decade ago, producers started contacting other artists with a catalog of popular songs to see if they'd like to do something similar. John Mellencamp turned them down flat; the rock star had no interest in reworking his past. But he was interested in writing a musical from scratch with new songs. In fact, he had an idea.
That idea eventually became "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," a "Southern gothic, supernatural musical" that features Mellencamp's songs and a script by author Stephen King. It premiered at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in the spring of 2012, toured the Midwest and South in the fall of 2013, and is coming to the East Coast this month. The production currently stars Gina Gershon, Billy Burke and country music legend Carlene Carter.
"I bought a cabin in the early '90s where a murder had taken place," Mellencamp said over the phone in late October from Orono, Maine, where he was taking a break from rehearsals. "Two brothers got into a fight over a girl; one hit the other over the head with a poker; the guy and the girl drove away and ran off the road into a lake and drowned. You don't know if you're psyching yourself out or not, but my wife and I spent only two nights there because it was too weird, and I sold the place.
"But it gave me the inspiration for a play about a family in crisis that owned a cabin where a murder had taken place 40 years earlier. I needed someone to help me with the script, and the first person I thought of was Steve. I gave him the premise and assumed it would take months to get something back. Ten days later I got an 80-page outline."
Mellencamp, 63, and King, 67, had been fans of each other's work, but didn't really know one another until they collaborated on the musical. "Ghost Brothers" takes place in Lake Belle Reve, Miss., and bounces back and forth in time. In 1967, young Joe McCandless watches from a hiding place as his older brothers, Jack and Andy, die along with Jenna, the woman they're fighting over. Forty years later, at the same remote cabin, Joe's two sons, Frank and Drake, threaten each other with violence over another woman, Anna. Egged on by both the living and the dead, Joe tries to heal the family by telling his secrets.
King's outline included places for Mellencamp to add a song sung by a specific character or characters to reveal a particular feeling. The two collaborators had agreed early on that this show, unlike a traditional Broadway musical, would not use songs to advance the plot, only for character development. After Anna has been flirting with both Frank and Drake, for example, she explains why in a song called "That's Just Who I Am." Similarly, Frank and Drake explore the deep roots of their sibling rivalry in the song "Brotherly Love."
"When I'm writing a song for John Mellencamp, it's like walking up to an empty canvas," Mellencamp said. "I have no idea what I'm going to do — and the canvas can surprise you. When you're writing on assignment, though, you know what your goal is.
"I would never have written a song about a 10-year-old admiring his big brothers, but because Steve gave me the assignment, I did. I had to reach back into my memory bank when I had two brothers and remembered what brought us together and what kept us apart. So having an assignment can be kind of a blessing."
Those songs were collected last year on an album, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," but it wasn't an original cast album. Instead, it featured versions of the musical's 17 songs produced by T-Bone Burnett and performed by the likes of Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow and Taj Mahal. Interspersed between the songs were snippets of dialogue performed by such actors as Matthew McConaughey, Meg Ryan and Samantha Mathis.
If writing on assignment was a new experience, writing for characters other than himself wasn't. Mellencamp has often written songs in voices of other people — and never more so than on his new album, "Plain Spoken." Clearly influenced by the experience of writing songs for the musical, Mellencamp creates very different characters and gives them a strong voice, supplied by both the words sung in Mellencamp's now-raspy growl and by the music supplied by a fiddle-and-brushes, roots-rock combo.
"Blue Charlotte" is sung over a push-and-pull rhythm in the persona of a man cradling his dying wife. "The Isolation of Mister" gives voice to the not-quite-convincing defiance of a man who pushed away lovers, family and colleagues. "The Brass Ring" is a Celtic-tinged look at a confrontation between a social reformer and a mother who left her children at a church to walk the streets of New Orleans; both have their say and neither backs down.
"These songs on 'Plain Spoken' were channeled to me," Mellencamp said. "I just sat down and started playing guitar, and as fast as my hands could write and my voice could sing, these songs came out. 'Blue Charlotte' felt like a Tennessee Williams short story to me; 'The Brass Ring' sounded like a William Faulkner story. Those are the guys I'm interested in these days. I don't care what Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones are doing."http://www.gloucestertimes.com/cnhi_network/john-cougar-mellencamp-brings-southern-twist-to-broadway/article_10ae3304-eb83-5fd6-b8ae-deda15407732.html