(Ghost Brothers of Darkland County)
This is not a book. Or a short story, or a poem, or a movie, or a teleplay, or any of that. It’s also not a solo King project.
It’s a musical. Stephen King, along with John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett, made a musical.
Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is what it’s called. I don’t think it was hugely well-known about even when it was happening — I knew about it, but I’m a Stephen King nerd. Every algorithm I interact with has learned to push this kind of news at me. I’m not so sure that it’s universal knowledge. And I don’t believe the show ever got super popular. I looked at what Wiki had to say about the reception, and it seemed mixed. A reviewer from Esquire really liked it. The New York Times really didn’t. Several reviews complained that King’s script was muddled and rambling. I’m not really surprised, honestly. Whether or not a Stephen King work will translate well to the large or small screen has always been hit or miss, I would assume the same would be true for theater. Plus, he’s not really a playwright. Not that he can’t do that kind of writing if he wants to. I imagine if he began to create plays at the rate he produces books and stories, he would improve the parts of playwriting that are different from novel or short story writing, and that he would probably write some plays that made great shows, as well as a number of plays that looked good in writing but did not, in fact, actually make great shows, which seems to be what happened here.
Because I read the script, and it’s… not bad. I’m not a huge fan of reading plays as plays, but I was interested enough even when I thought I knew where it was going. And as it turns out, I didn’t know where it was going, which was a nice surprise. Several years ago, I actually bought a set that contains the script (with handwritten notes) two CDs for the soundtrack, and a DVD. I didn’t get around to opening it right away, and then I moved, and I just didn’t open it at all. It’s been sitting there in the plastic until now.
One thing I learned when I opened it is that I pretty much have no good way to play a DVD anymore. My car has a CD player because it was made about 10 years ago and I guess that was still a thing people used then. So I could play the CDs while I was driving, if I wanted — and if I didn’t want, the soundtrack is on Spotify. But a DVD? At least one of the game consoles in the house plays DVDs (I think?) but I never get to use those — there’s always a kid or a husband on them. If I want to watch movies, I stream them or download them. I have a smart TV, so don’t need any device to connect me to Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. For as long as I could, I bought laptops that had a DVD drive, thinking I would want one if I didn’t have one (I never really ended up needing them) but this last time, I gave up… the laptops I was interested in didn’t come with DVD drives — actually, hardly any of them did whether I was interested or not — and adding one would be too expensive or not possible. I could probably just pick up a DVD player at a pawn shop if I really needed to watch a DVD. I never actually did that, though. Of course, I was right — it took about a year, but when it would have been really useful to have a DVD drive on my laptop, I of course did not.
So I didn’t watch the DVD. My understanding is that it’s just 10 or 15 minutes of King and Mellencamp discussing the making of the musical. I did listen to all the songs, and, like I said, read the script.
Mellencamp wrote the songs. If you like Mellancamp, you’ll like them. If you don’t, you won’t. That’s about all there is to it. Apparently, he was originally going to have each character sing in a different style depending on their age — so younger characters might rap and older ones might sing like Sinatra — but he didn’t do that. (Honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That’s one of those ideas that sounds intriguing, maybe even good, but in execution probably would have been a mess.) The songs just sound like Mellencamp songs to me. The story was King’s, and I liked it, though I guess it didn’t make for the most compelling show. I’d have watched it, though, if I were ever given the opportunity.
Ultimately, I think Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is one of those fan things. If you’re a serious fan of King, Mellencamp, or maybe T Bone, this is the kind of thing you want to have just to say you have it, but also the kind of thing you want to have because you enjoy what the artist does and get a kick out of seeing him stretch his style into something new, even if it’s a little funky in places. If you’ve only ever watched King movies and never read one of his books, can’t name a Mellencamp song, and don’t know who T Bone is, I don’t think this is going to grab you and turn you on to any of those artists. I mean, it might, anything’s possible, but I kind of doubt it.