Ghost writers: Mellencamp and King scare up a musical

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2013 - 2:45 PM

Rocker John Mellencamp and novelist Stephen King collaborate on a mysterious musical coming to Minneapolis.


Bruce Greenwood, left, a Hollywood regular best known from the “Star Trek” franchise, sang during a recent dress rehearsal of “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” in Bloomington, Ind.

Photo: Michael Conroy • Associated Press,

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John Mellencamp was cranky at hello.

He had been painting — he’s an exhibited artist — and when he sat down to pick up the phone, he’d gotten paint on a favorite chair at his South Carolina retreat.

It doesn’t take much to get the Indiana rocker to go off. He is, after all, John Cantankerous Mellencamp.

He wasn’t calling to get agitated about the economy or to talk about his painting. He wanted to promote his 13-years-in-the-making new musical co-written with horror-novel king Stephen King, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” now on a 20-city Midwest tour with a presentation Thursday in Minneapolis.

In short, “Ghost Brothers” is a Southern gothic Cain-and-Abel tale about two feuding brothers, a tragic accident, a mystery and a young boy who saw it all in the 1950s and now, as an adult, is facing the truth.

Here’s the back story:

In the 1990s, Mellencamp bought a cabin on a lake outside Bloomington, Ind., for a place to go with then-wife Elaine Irwin and their two young sons. People told him it was haunted.

The story, which Mellencamp researched, involved two brothers who fought over a woman. One accidentally died from a fireplace poker to the head. The other brother and the woman fled the scene, only to perish in a car accident.

Mellencamp mentioned the story to his Los Angeles agent, who suggested it could become a musical. The agent also happened to represent King.

“Steve created the characters,” Mellencamp explained. “He would call me up and say, ‘If this person could say this about the moment they’re in’ and then I would write a song. This is really ass-backwards for a musical. None of our songs move the story forward.”

King wrote the book, Mellencamp the music and lyrics. They communicated by phone, e-mail and text — and sometimes in person.

They mounted a monthlong production in Atlanta in 2012 with mostly local actors, then released an all-star recording this summer — produced by T Bone Burnett and performed by Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, Phil and Dave Alvin, Ryan Bingham and others, plus dialogue recited by the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Meg Ryan, Mellencamp’s girlfriend.

Mellencamp is featured only on a bonus track. “The record company demanded it,” he explained.

Since he was in a confessional mood: Does he believe in ghosts? “No, not really,” he said. “I’ve been creeped out before, though. I don’t know if it was ghosts. I imagine it was my imagination.”

Some creepy things happened at his cabin. A caretaker made fun of the rumors, so Mellencamp said he encouraged the guy to spend a night.

“He left in the middle of the night in his underwear. There was an old Victrola in the place. It started to play” on its own.

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  • ghost brothers of darkland county

    What: A musical by Stephen King and John Mellencamp.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.

    Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $39.50-$69.50.

    Web: www.GhostBrothers

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