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The Friday Morning Listen: John Mellencamp – Scarecrow

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The New York Times is reporting that Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country, the long-awaited musical being created by Stephen King and John Mellencamp, has been postponed. Somehow, I missed out on the fact that this play was in the works. King and Mellencamp working on a musical? My anti-musical self shudders at the thought, but the description — "a sultry Southern Gothic mystery with a blues-tinged, guitar-driven score" — actually makes the concept sort of interesting.

I've been a fan of King for many years. Horror was never particularly my genre so when King had his first big explosion of popularity during the Carrie era, I ignored the whole thing. Many years later, a co-worker turned me on to the book Thinner. That was it. I was hooked. Part of the appeal of his writing is that he can make these incredible absurdities seem absolutely believable. For me, the creep factor is enhanced by the fact that many of the locales King describes are real locations from King stomping grounds of Bangor, Maine. The "slice of pie" scene near the end of Thinner takes place in a park that's right behind my friend Gene's parents' house. I've been there. Weird!

I came to Mellencamp late in the game as well, but for slightly different reasons. I didn't ignore him. No, I detested him. Back in college, everybody seemed to have a copy of American Fool. Man, I freaking hated "Jack and Diane." I just couldn't see what the fuss was all about. At the time, the most entertainment value I could get was a hearty chuckle: a buddy of mine used to refer to him as "John Cougar Menstrual Cramp." Oh yeah, that's some sophisticated college humor right there. Duh. Mellencamp's Scarecrow is what finally did it for me. From the folky "Small Town" to Kenny Aronoff's monster drumming on "Rain On The Scarecrow," this collection just won me over. And… it was really fun to play at insanely high volumes.

After putting more thought into it, this musical thing does make perfect sense. King does have his own sense of the Gothic, and he's also a huge fan of big, loud classic rock. One of those late nights back in the early '80s, me and Gene were walking around the hills of Bangor in the middle of a snowstorm. Not long after passing the standpipe (the one that played a part in It) we started to hear a muffled but insistent thumping noise. It grew louder and louder, peaking when a van slowly passed us. It almost came to a complete stop a few yards later and then turned through a wrought iron gate and into the driveway of a big Victorian house — Stephen King's house. Man, he must have had the music in that van cranked to eleven because it was pretty damned loud, not discouraged one bit by the heavy snow falling all around us. Dang, I wish I could remember what song was playing.

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I wasn’t a big Mellencamp fan but I liked “Small Town” better than “My Hometown” back when radio was trying to turn Mellencamp and Springsteen into rivals. I still like “Small Town” better than “My Hometown,” even though I’ll take Springsteen over JCM any day of the week. Shit, there I go turning this into a comparative thing. Idiocy.

    Scarecrow is a mighty fine record. I liked some of Lonesome Jubilee as well. I have a 2-CD hits package of his and I dust it off semi-regularly.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wow. Our paths to Mellencamp are strikingly similiar.

    All my friends referred to JCM as a “cornfed Springsteen.” I had one friend who even used to say if Springsteen was the “Boss” that Mellencamp was the “employee.” But Scarecrow did it for me too, and like you Mark, Kenny Aronoff’s monster drumming was a big, big factor.

    JCM’s output has been pretty spotty since, but I liked last year’s “Freedom’s Road” a lot.

    We also share a fondness for King by the way. What I like about King’s writing is the way he takes these everyday, ordinary characters who you really grow to like and identify with, and puts them in extraordinary situations. My review of “Cell” is up here on BC somewhere, but my favorite is his great vision of the Apocalypse, “The Stand.”

    Great FML today Mark.

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Anti-musical? I know you aren’t much of a lyrics guy and maybe you got burned on some bad ones, but there are plenty of good musicals out there.

    I don’t know if you saw in the news where the college SDSU had a major drug bust that involved 75 students and six fraternities? When my buddy used to go there in the mid-80s, his dorm mate had a four-foot bong which gave “passing the standpipe” a whole different meaning.

  • JC Mosquito

    Actually, when Born in the USA came out, Petty, Seger & Mellencamp all started sounding much better to me than the Boss. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that each occupies a different patch o’ ground in the great American singer/songwriter landscape.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    there are plenty of good musicals out there

    i dunno. they mostly just make me cringe.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Watch out Mark, somewhere Mary is waiting behind a corner ready to knock the snot out of you with a copy of the Sound of Music.

    I’m reading the Stand right now. Well sort of, it is a bathroom read which means I’ve been reading it for the last six months. I’m up to page 700 now so it should only take another three months to get through.

  • http://sdquarterly.com/ Phillip Winn

    I’m glad you came around, Mark!

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Mark and I have accidentally stumbled on to something else to agree upon: musicals. Cringe is a good word.

  • Jude

    Mark, I’ll bet you can’t wait for God Help The Girl to come out!

  • http://www.magicjunk.com/radio S.Rod

    What’s wrong with a good musical?
    I took M.Sahm to his first musical last year and he enjoyed it. I know you guys (Mark & Josh) would love it.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    I like a good musical. I like the theatre in general, but throw in a few good songs and I’m soooo there.

  • http://www.myspace.com/sugarmarie1980 Cindy

    As a longtime JM fan, I have to admit, I find your blog refreshing. You can agree to disagree in a somewhat lighthearted way without the caustic comments.

    I was looking forward to this musical. I had a road trip penciled in for Atlanta, April of 2009. I think this project has been in the works for a good 8 or 9 years. I guess I’ll have to wait just a few more.

    As an added note, this play was work shopped last year in NYC.Peter Askin, whose New York credits include “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” was recently hired to direct.I hope this project is truly only postponed.I’m keeping my calendar open.

    I’ll leave you with a recent performance of “Scarecrow” at the Housing Works Bookstore in Soho, NY benefiting the homeless living in NYC with Aids/HIV. No wonder John was just awarded The Champion Award by the ASCAP foundation for his humanitarian efforts.

    A truly electric performance.