Knoxville News Sentinel: John Mellencamp Says His Musical 'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County' Is Always Alive And Changing
Knoxville News Sentinel Co. - By Wayne Bledsoe
John Mellencamp figures he’s beat the odds already:
“You know what the life expectancy is for a guy in a rock band? 49.”
Mellencamp, though, at 61 has lived a slightly cleaner life than some of his
“I haven’t been a drug taker or a drinker,” he says. “I haven’t been drunk or
stoned since 1971. It’s so foreign to me that it never even occurs to me. Now
cigarettes are a different story. They occur to me about every 15 minutes!”
Mellencamp, best known for his many hits, including “Small Town,” “Hurts So
Good,” “Jack and Diane” and “Little Pink Houses,” has well outlived the central
characters in “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” the musical that he created
with novelist Stephen King and producer/musician T-Bone Burnett.
“The origins of ‘Ghost Brothers’ is a true story,” says Mellencamp.
The inspiration for the play began when Mellencamp bought some land in
Indiana and heard about what happened in a cabin on the property. Two brothers
got into an argument over a young woman and one of the brothers accidentally
killed the other. Soon after the killer and the woman died in a car crash.
Mellencamp contacted his friend King about turning the story into a musical and
the process began.
“That was 15 years ago, or something ridiculous like that,” says Mellencamp.
“There would be times that Steve and I would work on it for six or seven weeks.
Then I’d have something come up and I’d have to promote a record or something.
I’ve probably done 1,000 shows since we started ‘Ghost Brothers’ and I’ve made a
handful of albums since then. And I bet Steve’s written 950 books!”
Burnett has also been busy acting as music director for Coen Brothers’ movies
The show has gone through a lot changes before getting into its current
state. It was presented onstage in Atlanta for six weeks in 2012 in what
Mellencamp says was a “Broadway style” production.
“We were dissatisfied with that. So we came up with another way of
approaching it. We work-shopped it New York, not in a theater, but in a
theatrical room and we liked what we saw, and that was maybe 10 months ago. And
it took us this long to get this together. It takes a long time. Our goal is to
watch this show under these conditions and see what else we need to change.”
He says there is a “scorched earth” of songs that have been changed and
“We’re always changing it. Always changing the songs. Always changing what’s
happening. Steve, he just wrote a new character for this production. This
character was a little teeny part. Now it’s a big part. It’s in motion all the
Mellencamp says he’s enjoyed the process.
“I loved it. We made a record of it that’s got Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow
and different people, Matthew (McConaughey) and Meg (Ryan). I’ve heard a lot of
people singing these songs. And it’s easy to tell which are the good songs when
you have other people singing them.”
The current presentation features Mellencamp’s regular band members playing
All of this leads to a lot of confusion with artists and promoters. The
performers on the album are not the performers touring with the show. It’s
presented with a bare bones production rather than Broadway theatrics
“It think the biggest misconception about ‘Ghost Brothers’ is the biggest
misconception about entertainment. People assume your goal is to go the
Broadway. People assume your goal is to have a hit record. It doesn’t always
have to be your goal. I’ll put it in a sexual form: Every girl you meet, the
assumption should not be that you want to have sex with her. Because you don’t.
You just don’t. If the sparks aren’t flying there’s no reason to go forward with
the relationship. But if the sparks are flying and it feels good then you go for
it. If not, you’re not interested. Somebody a few weeks ago said we want to
develop a movie. ‘I don’t think so. We’re not ready for that. We’re not ready to
get married yet.’ ”
Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12
Where: Civic Auditorium
Tickets: $72.50, $57.00, $41.50, plus service charges, available at Knoxville