Indianapolis Star: John Mellencamp's "Play With Music" To Hit Stage In Bloomington, Indianapolis

The Indianapolis Star - By David Lindquist

John Mellencamp readily admits to being protective when it comes to “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.”

The Indiana rock star and famed novelist Stephen King began work on “Ghost Brothers” — “a play with music,” as Mellencamp says — in 2000. Their long-gestating collaboration picked up a third party, musician-producer T-Bone Burnett, before the show debuted in Atlanta in 2012.

A Midwestern tour of “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” launches on Thursday in Bloomington and includes an Oct. 18 date at Butler University’s Clowes Hall.

While Mellencamp would love for you to buy a ticket and see the show, he doesn’t consider “Ghost Brothers” a fully realized production — even after 13 years. A recent offer would have placed the project on Broadway for a limited run, and Mellencamp and King declined.

“We’re just not ready yet,” Mellencamp said. “Our goals have not changed. But they’re not traditional goals.”

As cryptic as Mellencamp is regarding the big picture for “Ghost Brothers,” he’s also tight-lipped about the true-life incident that sparked the spooky story.

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, three people lost their lives after an argument decades ago at a cabin a few miles outside Bloomington.

The cabin was site of a brawl between two brothers, inspired by a girl who also was present. One brother died when he caught a fireplace poker to the head. The other brother and the girl fled the scene, only to die in a car accident en route to town.

Mellencamp said he possesses documents related to the tragedy, but amateur sleuths are on their own.

“You have to go deeper than Google, I guess, to find it,” he said.

Mellencamp learned of the deaths after he purchased the cabin in the 1990s.

“The people I bought it from said, ‘Oh, by the way, this place may be haunted,’ ” he said. “I kind of laughed and said, ‘Yeah, right.’ But a lot of creepy stuff happened there. I think I stayed there four nights. I ended up selling it to some doctor from Indianapolis. He probably hasn’t seen anything happen there.”

For their fictional story, Mellencamp and King moved the cabin to “Lake Belle Reve” in Mississippi — where parallel sets of brothers feud in the past and present.

Don’t expect the production to be a framework for dozens of Mellencamp hits, in the style of “Jersey Boys” (which features the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) or “Movin’ Out” (which highlighted Billy Joel’s work).

Rather than being a jukebox musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” is built upon dialogue written by King and new songs from Mellencamp.

King asked Mellencamp to write certain tunes for character development, but Mellencamp vocally opposes songs that exist solely to “move the plot forward.” He admires two old-school Broadway musicals, “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific,” that delivered songs that could stand alone.

“In today’s world, things have to fit in a little box,” Mellencamp said. “And if it doesn’t fit in that box, people ask ‘What are they doing?’ You can’t pigeonhole (‘Ghost Brothers’). You just to have to see it. If you like it, great.”

Last year’s six-week run in Atlanta flirted too much with contemporary Broadway for Mellencamp’s liking.

“I didn’t like actors dancing while my songs were being sung,” he said. “It didn’t feel right. There was too much movement, too much action. The story is kind of detailed, and you have to pay attention.”

On the Midwestern tour, the “Ghost Brothers” cast features Bruce Greenwood (known for film roles in “Flight” and “Thirteen Days”) and Emily Skinner (whose Broadway credits include “Side Show” and “Jekyll & Hyde”) in high-profile roles.

“Ghost Brothers,” billed as a story of “fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge,” also brings four members of Mellencamp’s band — guitarist Andy York, drummer Dane Clark, bass player Jon Gunnell and keyboard player Troye Kinnett — to the stage.

Mellencamp, who is not part of the cast, counts his friendship with King as a valuable byproduct of the “Ghost Brothers” experience.

“For me, it’s already a success,” Mellencamp said. “If there’s one friend I’ve made in the entertainment business, it’s Steve King. We have not had a cross word or any major disagreement in 20 years.”

Regarding the fierce sibling rivalries depicted King’s libretto, Mellencamp said the author of “The Body” (later adapted as the film “Stand By Me”) and “It” has a track record to be trusted.

“He has a very good handle on these types of things,” Mellencamp said of King. “When you see it onstage, you’re going to go, ‘Wow, these guys really do hate each other.’ ”

Up next for Mellencamp is an album he’ll make for Universal Music in 2014. He said he may invite Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz, the Indianapolis-based teenage sister duo that appeared on the “Ghost Brothers of Darkland” soundtrack, to be part of the new project.

Mellencamp’s teenage sons, Hud and Speck, made headlines this summer for their arrests in connection to battery charges. Monroe County court documents described a beating during the early hours of July 29, when a 19-year-old man told police the Mellencamps and Ty Smith, son of Indiana University baseball coach Tracy Smith, came to his Bloomington home after a party.

When asked about incident, John Mellencamp said, “(Hud and Speck) made some bad decisions.”