Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Truth Looks So Far Away: A Review of "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County"

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a bit difficult for me to approach from a critical perspective, because it presents a few problems which must be solved prior to even beginning a review.

For example: how do you review a play without the benefit of actually seeing it?  That's like reviewing a movie based on the screenplay and the trailer; you can do it, theoretically, but only if you're willing to make a whole lot of assumptions.

Ghost Brothers is a musical, so we've at least got the benefit of being able to hear the music.  It'd definitely be possible to review the soundtrack based purely on the songs; but doing that would require purposely ignoring the context within which the songs are meant to be placed.  Doesn't seem very responsible for me to do that.

The fact is this: I have no means of consuming Ghost Brothers of Darkland County in the way it was intended to be consumed.  So, I'll instead do the next best thing:

Say "fuck it," and write whatever I feel like writing.

...sigh...

That feels so much better...




Let's do this: begin with a simple not-so-simple look at the different editions of the soundtrack that are currently available.



  • The standard CD edition is a one-disc version that has 35 tracks (17 songs plus 18 dialogue segments that give you a rough -- though very incomplete -- idea of the story).  There is also a download card that allows you to download versions of the songs that have no dialogue components, in case you want to listen to the music purely as music.  The product description on the musical's official site says that you also get a digital version of King's libretto, but I cannot verify that, since I did not buy this edition.
  • The deluxe CD + DVD edition is a two-disc version.  Disc 1 is the same CD detailed above; disc 2 is an eleven-minute DVD that includes a very brief making-of documentary as well as a music video for one of the songs.  The DVD also contains a PDF of the libretto, but you can't access it while the disc is playing; you will have to pull the file straight off the disc from your PC.  I'll be blunt: the DVD is not worth paying extra for.  You can find stuff on YouTube for free that will tell you more about the production that this mini-documentary does; and the video for "Truth" is widely available online.
  • The hardcover edition is a three-disc version that includes both of the discs listed above, as well as a second CD consisting of the music-only versions of the songs.  The real draw for King fans, though, will be the book version of King's libretto.  For a dude like me, it's worth the extra money to have a copy of that that I can put on a shelf alongside my other books.  Sadly, the news gets considerably worse from there: the book itself is not in any way, shape, or form a hardback.  Nope, it's a softcover, one that fits inside a slipcover that I suppose could be called a hardback.  But it isn't; it's a slipcover.  Not the same thing.  The binding feels rather flimsy, and I suspect that if you don't handle it with care it's apt to disintegrate on you.  Also, the width of the thing makes it awkward to hold; readers are hereby counseled to find a desk or table to place it on while reading it.  Arguably worst of all: the paper is black, which is quite frustrating to look at long enough to actually read the libretto.  I was more than a little disappointed by the physical quality of this product.  BUT WAIT!!!!!  I forgot the actual worst part!  The discs slide into lousy little spots cut into the back cover of the book, which puts them at high risk for getting scratched the older they get.  Sheesh...
  • The iBooks digital version seems to contain more or less all of the above, but I cannot immediately verify that.
  • Finally, there are also digital-download versions of the soundtrack, so if you don't want an actual CD, you can stick with the MP3s.

My recommendation?  Unless you're a serious enough completist that it will bother you not to have a physical copy of the libretto, I'd recommend getting the standard edition, either on CD or via download (depending on your own personal preferences).  You can still get the libretto that way, and while you won't have a copy you can put on a shelf, the "hardback" version is a moderately shabby product that presents its own complications.

Odds are, you already know which version you want if you were to buy a copy.

But I haven't answered the most important question yet: is Ghost Brothers of Darkland County any good?

For me, the answer is a definite "yes," based mostly on the strength of the music.  King's libretto is good, but he's a little out of his element, and it shows here and there.  That said, I'm comparing the libretto to recent King novels like Joyland, The Wind Through the Keyhole, and 11/22/63, all of which are very strong works; Ghost Brothers does not stack up well against them in the story department, but that's no real insult, is it?  Divorced from such expectations, I think it stands up pretty well.

The basic story is this: two brothers are at each others' throats over a woman, and their mother and father (mostly Joe, their father) sit them down in a somewhat disused family cabin (in the woods) to try and heal the divide between them.  Joe's approach to this?  He has a story to tell: the story of how his brothers long ago also got into a feud over a woman they both loved, and the trio all ended up dead as a result.  Dead, yes, but not entirely gone; they are -- unbeknownst to Joe and his family, but known to us in the audience -- still stuck right there in that cabin, as ghosts.  And if Joe can't manage to tell everyone the truth about what happened to his brothers all those years ago, they are all going to be in some serious trouble.

The devil -- referred to here as "The Shape" -- is somehow involved in all of this, too.

What I'm going to do now is provide a plot run-down, and insert my thoughts about each of the musical's songs where they fit into the story.  There will be spoilers, so if you want to experience the play / soundtrack / libretto for yourself, this'd be a good time for you to parachute to safety.

Everyone else, grab a jog of moonshine and let's get ta gettin'.

*****

A character called the Zydeco Cowboy appears; he's an old-timey radio deejay, and he says things like "Sorry to interrupt, chillun, but I just got some tragic news from Lake Belle Reve, where it look" [sic] "like a bad accident has occurred on to a double suicide."

Boy, do I hate it when Stephen King writes dialect.  Now, I'll admit that I'm a Southerner, so I'm sensitive to poorly-done Southern accents, be they spoken or written.  I'm sure King hates it when he hears somebody doing a shitty imitation of a Mainer, or a Bostonian even.  I get that he wants to impart to the audience that Ghost Brothers is a tale of Southern-fried proportions, but frankly, that could be accomplished in the stage directions by saying something along the lines of suggesting the actors speak as though they were guest-starring on an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.  No real need to write it out dialectically, methinks.

Also, I have lived in the South my entire 38 years, and I have never once heard the phrase "has occurred on to" in the context of meaning "has led to" (or "has resulted in").  I don't think anybody says that.  I could be wrong, of course; I'm not a Mississippian, so maybe King knows something I don't know.  But to my Alabamian ears, it sounds weird and false.

Anyways, after the Zydeco Cowboy briefly gives a radio bulletin about two brothers dying, one of a gunshot and the other with his girlfriend, another character appears: The Shape, who seems to be the devil hisself himself.  The Shape performs a song called "That's Me," and on the soundtrack these duties are handled by Elvis Costello.


Elvis Costello

"That's Me" is a slinky sort of tune, one that is not easy to categorize.  Much of Ghost Brothers can be described as country music, thanks to the performers on the soundtrack if nothing else.  "That's Me," however, seems to come be a peculiar mixture of country, jazz, showtune, bluegrass, and who knows what else.  It doesn't sound like any of the other songs on the album, and it's probably my least favorite (or possibly second least-favorite) song in the bunch.  It isn't bad, just really, really odd.  (You can check it out here on the official Ghost Brothers site; the entire album -- the music-only versions -- is streaming there, so feel free to listen along while you read this review.)

From here, we met Dan and Joe, who are at a place called the Dreamland Cafe.  Dan is the bartender; Joe is a patron.  Dan tells Joe that he needs to tell the truth and get out of there.  We don't know what that means, but we'll find out, eventually.

In the next scene, we meet Frank McCandless and his girlfriend, Anna, who are showing up at the McCandless family cabin one night, having apparently been summoned there by Frank's father, Joe.  Frank and Anna are played, in their speaking roles, by Hamish Linklater and Kelli Garner, neither of whom sound particularly Southern.  Frank and Anna have been to see Frank's brother, Drake, play with his band; it seemingly didn't go too well.  Anna seems to be bearing a grudge of some sort, presumably against Drake, and before long she's singing a song to give us some insight into her character.

"That's Who I Am" is performed on the soundtrack by Neko Case, an artist I've heard of for years without ever actually hearing anything from.


Neko Case


Based on this song, which is gorgeous, I think I may have unknowingly been worse off all these years for knowing nothing but Case's name.

"That's Who I Am" finds Anna telling us that she's "a whole lotta big little girl" who knows what men like.  The image conjured up here is of a succubus; or, if maybe not quite that demonic, a woman who is more than happy to use every last little bit of the power she holds over men by virtue of having...well, you know.

We're only two songs in, and a theme of sorts has already presented itself: in the first song, The Shape sang to us an explanation of who he is; in the second, Anna sang to us an explanation of who she is, i.e., what she is all about.  Will there turn out to be a larger connection here?  We'll find out.

After Anna's song, we get a scene of the two of them fooling around in Frank's old childhood bedroom.  We also find out that he's evidently soon to become a published author (or perhaps is already; it is mentioned that his agent has sold paperback rights to a book for half a million bucks).

While the two of them hump it out, we meet Dan, the bartender from the Dreamland Cafe, again.  He is joined by Andy and Jack, the brothers who the Zydeco Cowboy mentioned as having tragically died.  The three of these new additions to the scene all seem to be ghosts, and before long they are joined by a fourth: Jenna, who is automatically reminiscent of Anna and, we understand, shared many of the same unpleasant characteristics in her mortal life.  Probably a lot of the pleasant ones, too.

Even in the afterlife, Dan and Jack are still arguing, and their heated words lead to a heated song: "So Goddam Smart."  The song is performed by Phil and Dave Alvin, about whom I know nothing, except that they have apparently been involved in their own brotherly feud for quite some time.


Dave Alvin

Phil Alvin


Jenna's part is sung by Sheryl Crow, who performed one of my least favorite James Bond songs ("Tomorrow Never Dies") but is famous for much more than that.  I'm not terribly knowledgeable about her music, either; but I recognize her voice, so she's got a leg up on some of these other cats, at least.


Sheryl Crow

Jenna's speaking voice on the dialogue clips is performed by Samantha Mathis.  She's great, and she's having a heck of a spring when it comes to Stephen King projects, seeing as how she's also a cast member on Under the Dome.


Samantha Mathis

The speaking roles for Jack and Andy are filled by Patch Darragh and W. Earl Brown, respectively.  I know Brown's work from Deadwood, and he brings a lot to the table here; for one thing, he actually sounds like a Southerner, which helps.  Apart from that, though, he's got an intensity that some of the other performers lack; it's enough to make me wish there was a full recording of the libretto, rather than just dialogue snippets.


W. Earl Brown on Deadwood


"So Goddam Smart" is a loud, nasty country-rock tune, easily one of my favorites on the disc.  It kicks ass, and lyrically it furthers some of the play's themes; Jenna sings, "Oh, here we are, from dust to eternity, and here we will stay until the truth just lets us be."  The focus on identity present in the first two songs shifts here a bit, with Andy and Jack also singing about identity, but in a more confrontational manner.

The song ends, and Frank and Anna's exertions seem to have done, as well.  Before long, they are surprised by noises coming from the front of the cabin: it's Monique, Frank's mother.  She's played by Meg Ryan.  Monique is none too happy to see that Frank has brought along a ladyfriend to what was ostensibly supposed to be a family gathering.


Meg Ryan


During this scene, The Shape has been present, whispering in people's ears, trying to get them to do one horrible thing or another.  He comes close to succeeding on a couple of occasions, too.  He doesn't seem too impressed by Monique's disdain for Anna; "Looks like Mo-neekie forgot how to get freaky," he speculates to the audience.  Not one of the libretto's better moments, that.  This leads to another song from The Shape and Costello, "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Me."

I don't really know how to describe "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Me," except to say that it's a good song, one better-suited to Costello's talents than "That's Me."  I say that from the standpoint of someone who's never been much of a Costello fan, though, so bear that in mind.

The Shape here sings another song about identity, although this one -- like "So Goddam Smart" -- is focused more on one character making accusations about another.

Pretty soon, Drake shows up.  He's played by Matthew McConaughey.  I find that in this life, there are two types of people:  those who think McConaughey is awesome, and those who do not.  I am in the camp of the former.  Like W. Earl Brown, he brings a Southern authenticity to his portrayal, which counts for a lot, at least with me.



Matthew McConaughey


Frank and Drake argue over Drake's show; a record company representative was there, and Frank seems intent on making Drake aware that it didn't go as well as Drake seems to want people to believe it went.  Drake, meanwhile, is disdainful of Frank's writerly aspirations.

None of that matters, though, once Anna comes out of the other room.  Drake had no idea she was there.  He also had no idea she was with Frank; Drake seems to have been under the assumption that she was still with him.  Anna, all tact, mentions that she and Frank have gotten engaged.  She's a real peach, that one.

The ghosts are taking all of this in, and Andy remarks to Jenna's comments about Jenna being a real bitch with a pointed "Well, you'd know."  Burn.

Frank and Drake continue to argue, and it leads into the next song, "Brotherly Love."  Will Dailey and Ryan Bingham perform the singing roles of Frank and Drake.  I know nothing of their work, and this song doesn't do much to persuade me to change that.  It isn't a bad song, but it's one of my least favorite tracks on the album.


Ryan Bingham

Will Dailey


The argument continues, with Drake telling the story of how he accidentally broke Frank's arm and Frank complaining about how Monique has always, his whole life, taken Drake's side.

Meanwhile, their dad, Joe, has shown up.  He hasn't made his presence known to them yet, though; he's just lurking around outside, trying to convince himself to go in and do what has to be done.

Joe is played, both speaking and singing, by Kris Kristofferson.  Kristofferson is a bit of a legend, ain't he?  He brings a lot of authenticity to this project, and I'd like to toss in a random plug for a John Sayles movie called Lone Star, which stars both Kristofferson and McConaughey and is awesome and ought to be seen by everyone who loves awesome things.


Kris Kristofferson




Joe sings a song for us: "How Many Days," and for once in this musical (so far), the focus is not on identity, but on implication.  "How much time can one man spend trying," Joe wonders; "how many lies could that one man tell?"

The song ends; Joe's resolve is mounting, and in the libretto he speaks aloud to himself, "I'm gonna tell them"  Alas, The Shape is there to whisper in his ear, "But not everything."

"Of course, I can't tell them everything," Joe says; he does not know The Shape is there, but he feels that pernicious influence all the same.

Are you beginning to suspect that this story might not have a happy ending?  Yep.  Me too.

Frank and Drake continue arguing, and Frank drops the bombshell that his book has sold for half a million dollars.  Drake is thunderstruck, as is Monique, and The Shape is whispering things in Drake's ear, escalating the situation even further.  But before things get too nasty, Joe walks in and commands everyone to chill the fuck out.

Joe immediately begins waffling; he feels that due to the boys' arguing, there is a poison in the air that makes it unsafe.  He's not wrong.  But Monique insists that if he doesn't follow through with whatever he's called them all there to do, he can spend the next week in a hotel.  Meanwhile, Andy and Jack are shaken by the sight of their "younger" brother, now a grown, sad old man.

We get another song: "Home Again," sung by Sheryl Crow with contributions from the rest of the cast in the form of a chorus.  This is a ballad, I suppose you'd say; it's Jenna singing to Joe, trying to calm him into feeling at home again.  It's a tender song, and a tender thing for Jenna to do for her lovers' brother.  It's interesting that in death, Jenna seems to have turned into a nicer person than one suspects she was in life.

Outside, Monique and Drake sit by the lake.  She asks him what really happened when his band played at the fair, and Drake tells her the truth: that it went very, very poorly.  We get a bit of a flashback to Drake / Ryan Bingham performing a song, "You Are Blind."  It's another ballad, somewhat in the vein of Time Out of Mind-era Bob Dylan, with lyrics that remind me heavily of "Suzanne"-era Leonard Cohen.  It's a pretty good song, and I'm not sure it works for the play.  It feels like it ought to be a much shittier song than this if we're expected to believe that the performance was a disaster.  But otherwise, it persuasively makes a case for Drake being in love with Anna (whom we assume it is about).

Drake walks off, and we get a solo from Monique, who is played in her singing guise by Rosanne Cash.


Rosanne Cash



Monique's song,  "You Don't Know Me," returns us to the theme of identity.  I'm not entirely sure how her song fits in with the action in this section; I suppose we are expected to believe this is her song to Drake, her favorite son, in which case it certainly backs up Frank's assertion that she has taken his brother's side for his whole life.  I'm not convinced that Monique is that great a mother, to be honest.

Back in the cabin, Joe finally gets his resolve up sufficiently to begin telling his story.  We get a song from the point of view of a younger version of Joe, a ten-year-old.  Which means a ten-year-old comes into the production and sings a mildly treacly song, "My Name Is Joe," which is probably my least favorite song in the whole production.  But it's decent enough; I'm just not a fan of hearing children sing.  They are creepy and awful, and I can't think of too many instances in which a child singing didn't make my lip curl in semi-disgust.  This song specifically reminds me of "My Name Is James" from James and the Giant Peach.  Why mention that?  Why not...?

From here, Joe launches into the story of what happened to his brothers, Jack and Andy.  They were both in love with the same girl (Jenna), and they were both sharpshooters who finished first and second in a shooting contest.  Andy nurses a grudge over that, because he says his gun slipped; and Jack is not particularly gentlemanly in his victory, either.  This is not made any better by the fact that Jenna, who Andy thought was his, kisses Jack on the mouth and slides the medal around his neck; she's gone over to the winning side, it seems.

We next get a song from Dan, the bartender, who also used to be the caretaker of the cabin.  He died there fixing a clock, and so he haunts the place with all the other ghosts.  His song, "Tear This Cabin Down," is performed by blues legend Taj Mahal and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show.


Taj Mahal, possibly driving Christine...




"Tear This Cabin Down" is a grimy, nasty (in terms of the music, not the lyrics) piece of rock-infused blues.  Pretty badass.  I'm not entirely sure where Dan fits into this whole thing, though; there seem to be some hints that he balances out The Shape in some ways, although he does not appear to be as positive an influence as The Shape is a negative one.  This is one of those situations where I'm going to assume that it works better in the actual stage production than it does reading a libretto and playing a soundtrack.

Either way, great song.  And since it brings the first act to a close, it had better be.

The second act begins with another song from The Shape, "Lounging Around In Heaven," which is not on the soundtrack.  Curses!

This transitions to another scene of Joe in the Dreamland Cafe, talking to Dan the bartender.  What's up with this?  Stay tuned...

Frank and Drake continue their argument, and in trying to punch each other, they accidentally wallop their mother in the face.  (They've been sitting on a couch with her between them.)  Anna takes Frank's side, and Joe threatens to make her GTFO.

Ghostly Jenna tells Dan that Joe looks as if he is about to give up on telling the story, and this leads to a song, sung by Crow and the Alvins.  "And Your Days Are Gone" is the name of this one; it's a dark, dreary, but compelling piece of work, and is probably my favorite of the songs Crow sings here.

The Shape leads Monique to find Jack's old shooting medal, which has been gathering dust on top of the gun cabinet.  Monique then sings another song, "On Belle Reve Time," also not represented on the soundtrack.  Double curses!!

Joe continues his story, and tells what happened after the shooting match.  Andy lays into Jack for not backing him up in trying to get the judge to let him shoot a second time.  They decide to all go out to a roadhouse together and get sloppy drunk, which I think you'll agree might not have been the best of decisions.  It works out in the short term, though, at least for us, because we get to hear Jenna/Crow sing "Jukin'," a sort of spiritual cousin to Anna's "That's Who I Am."  This song, though, is more of a blatant rocker.  Not one of my favorites, but good enough.

Everyone, thoroughly drunk, decides to go to the cabin, and the end result of this is that Andy challenges Jack to shoot a piece of fruit off of his head as a means of proving he's the better shot.  The four brothers -- two living, two dead -- share a song, "Put Me in the Ground," which is yet another second-act song not found on the soundtrack.  Triple curses!!!

It segues almost immediately into "So Goddam Good," a trio for the flashback versions of Andy, Jack, and Jenna.  This is a haunting song, one that sounds a hell of a lot like a song being sung by people who -- consciously or otherwise -- know they are all going to be dead soon.  "Stop while there's time; stop if you care," sings Jenna.  "This won't prove a thing; there's death in the air."  Mellencamp wrote the lyrics, but this feels to me like one of the places where King's influence shone through.

Eventually, Jack pulls the trigger, and of course, Andy gets a hole in his head, and an express journey to the afterlife.  Jack and Jenna are shellshocked, and form a suicide pact; they go to a nearby promontory and leap off it to their deaths.

Hearing this story, Frank and Drake seem changed.  But there's something wrong.  The Shape and Dan have a conversation, and Dan whispers to Joe something accusatory about how he continues to tell lies.  Could it be that maybe things didn't happen exactly the way Joe has told his family they happened?

More on that in a second, but first, another Kristofferson song: "What Kind of Man Am I," another of the several songs that remind me -- and in the good way -- of some of those albums Bob Dylan made with Daniel Lanois.  I haven't mentioned it, but the Ghost Brothers album was produced by T Bone Burnett (no relation), who was once upon a time a touring guitarist on Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.  Burnett has produced songs for everyone from Elton John to Tony Bennett to Roy Orbison to Robert Plant.  He also produced the music for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which proved so popular that it spawned a concert tour for the music!  So to say the least, Burnett is a big deal in the pop music scene.  He does awesome work on this particular album, crafting a consistent sound from disparate performers, and a great one, at that.


T Bone Burnett


Joe has, somehow, been speaking with the younger version of himself, and he's convinced himself to finish telling the story; the real story.  As it turns out, Jack and Jenna went to the promontory, but once there they decided they couldn't go through with the suicide.  But Joe, rushing through the woods to try and stop them, bursts into sight suddenly, startling them; they accidentally fall to their deaths.

This is not one of the more persuasive moments in the libretto; depending on how it's staged, it could work in the production.  But for me, it fell dead flat on the page.  No pun intended.

Frank and Drake both try to reassure their father that he was not to blame, and it seems like some sort of rapprochement has developed between the living brothers.  Joe laments that it may have been only four seconds that stood between life and death for Jack and Jenna; if he had been four seconds slower, they could have walked away and lived.

Jenna, in her ghostly form, hears him.  "It all goes so fast and we never know," she says.  "It just slips...slips away.  Like silk.  Makes a noise when it goes.  Just a little one."

And then Jenna sings "Away From This World," a sad, lovely song that I'm going to speculate will be played by young girls with guitars on YouTube for years to come.  Many of them will wear glasses, even though they probably don't need to.  I'm okay with that.

Things are looking pretty good for the living inhabitants of the cabin, but it doesn't take long before things go south permanently.  Anna and Monique get into an argument, then an actual fight, and Monique slips, hits her head, and dies.  Drake finds the two of them, and he begins the process of choking Anna into the next life.  Frank finds the two of them, and shoots his brother dead.  Unfortunately for him, the bullet goes clean through Drake, and kills Anna as well.  Then Frank sees that his mother is dead, so he just skips to the punchline and shoots himself.  But not before he kills Joe, too.

It's a reg'lar bloodbath, yessir!

Frank meets The Shape and asks if he's been there all along.  Jenna whispers, "Like silk," and that's that.

Except...

There's an epilogue, and Joe and Dan are once again in the Dreamland Cafe.  We find out that Monique is also there, and -- more importantly -- we find out that the events of the play (which take place in 2007 with flashbacks to the sixties) occurred years earlier.  Joe is in some sort of purgatory, torturing himself, making himself relive the same events over and over in the hopes that he'll get it right.  At least, I think that's what's going on here.

The play ends with a final song, "Truth," sung mostly by Monique and Joe, with contributions from the rest of the main cast, including The Shape.  For me, this is the standout track on the album.  It is marred ever so slightly -- if you want to call what I'm about to describe as a marring -- by being performed by different singers than the ones who sing the roles elsewhere on the album.  The song begins with two female voices, Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz.


Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz


I don't know who these little ladies are, but I'll say this: they sound like goddam angels.  Does it make sense for them to be performing Monique and Joe here?  (And, for that matter, Dan, Jack, Anna, Jenna, Frank, Drake, and Andy, who are given the chorus in the production?)  No.  Except emotionally, it certainly ends the whole endeavor on a highpoint, which seems to be the intent.

Meanwhile, John Mellencamp himself shows to sing The Shape's role, and it sounds to me as if he is doing an impersonation of Bob Dylan in his gravel-throated later years.


John Mellencamp


I wish there was an alternate version with the rest of the cast performing this song, but even "marred" as it is by this production decision, "Truth" is a great song.  I might even go so far as to call it a bit of an instant classic.

*****

How should all this be judged within the context of Stephen King's career and typical work?

To be honest, I don't entirely know.  I think some individual moments fall flat, but the overall story is an interesting one, and the idea of two living brothers who serve as echoes of two dead ones is a compelling one.  The music is mostly great.

In the end, I think I personally tend to see this more as a Mellencamp project (and a Burnett project) than as a King project.  Interviews with the trio suggest a more collaborative effort than one might suspect, though.  King actually receives a songwriting credit alongside Mellencamp and Burnett on "So Goddam Good," which suggests that he made at least a few lyrical contributions.  Mellencamp has also said that King made some specific suggestions about what type of songs should go in specific places; it's probably unwise to downplay King's involvement.  Sorry I brought it up, y'all!

In the end, if nothing else, I think Ghost Brothers of Darkland County proves that King is still willing to stretch into new territory.  I think it also proves again that he is really rather good at collaboration.  Both he and Mellencamp have made cracks in interviews about how neither of them plays well with other children; but to be honest, the results here do not bear that assertion out, because the result is a piece of work that feels like a unified whole.  It doesn't feel like a bunch of people who turned in their work separately; it sounds like the product of a well-oiled machine.

It's hard to tell what the future holds for the production, but I for one hope that the full stage version will be mounted again at some point.  I'd love to see one of those get filmed and released on Blu-ray; I'd love to be able to actually see this production.

But I'd also settle for a full-scale radio-drama style presentation at some point.  Or, failing that, I'd love to just hear the songs which didn't make the cut for the soundtrack.

The bottom line: I'd love to hear more.

That's what it's all about, ain't it?




I hope this ramble of a review made sense to somebody other than me.  I'll be back soon with a look at Hard Listening, the recent e-book from the Rock Bottom Remainders.

6 comments:

  1. "I'm sure King hates it when he hears somebody doing a shitty imitation of a Mainer, or a Bostonian even."

    I hope so. God knows there are enough of those, in King adaptations alone (Storm of the Century comes immediately to mind.) A huge pet peeve of mine - hell, there are worlds of difference between Maine, Rhode Island, and Boston accents, and even within the states themselves. Anyway - I hear you.

    Lone Star is indeed an awesome movie; I haven't seen that in many moons.

    Haven't heard this one yet, but good write-up. Looking forward to reading that Hard Listening book, too.

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    1. (Spoiler alert: it's very entertaining!)

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  2. Someone must've filmed this.. I mean come on!! I really want to see this. I am sure it will be released on film at a later date. I listened to it free online here: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/05/28/listen-to-john-mellencamp-and-stephen-king-team-up-on-ghost-brothers/

    Really enjoyed it!

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    1. I've been scouring the Internet looking for a bootleg film of one of the performances. I felt certain one would have been on YouTube or The Pirate Bay by now.

      No dice, though.

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  3. I saw this musical when it came to Columbus...one of the best musicals I have ever seen.

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