Mellencamp Talks About Writing Musical With Stephen King

Novelist and singer/songwriter hope to finish project next year.

After the debacle of Paul Simon's "The Capeman" in 1997, most musicians probably find the thought of scoring a musical terrifying. But for John Mellencamp, the only scary thing about working on a stage collaboration with Stephen King is the story.

"I've never done it, Steve's never done it — which is why it's interesting to us," Mellencamp said before a recent concert in Milwaukee. "We'll see how the hell it works out."

Mellencamp said the basic plot has to do with two competitive brothers forced to reckon with the ghosts, both literal and figurative, of their family's violent past. When he dreamed up the story and told it to King several years ago, "in typical Stephen King fashion, he came up with something that was f---in' great," Mellencamp said. "He's one of the best American novelists, period." Mellencamp declined to reveal more details.

So far, Mellencamp's written five songs for the project. They're unlike anything he's penned before, he said, and he's enjoying the change. "They're not rock songs," he said. "The reason I'm interested is that I don't have to worry about any pop sensibility. I can write adult songs, and I don't have to worry about choruses and hooklines."

Citing what he called a disturbing trend in Broadway musicals, he said he wants to avoid using the songs to tell the story.  "This is not a rock opera. This is not 'Tommy,' " he said. "I can write songs that emote, and that's it. In so many musicals today, the story is moved forward by a song. I don't think we're gonna try to do that."

Mellencamp added that he and King plan to meet for a month in February to wrap things up. "We're actually going to try to finish this thing, instead of just talking about it," he said.

On tour in the U.S., Mellencamp will perform in Selma, Texas, on Wednesday (see "John Mellencamp Shows Two Faces In Milwaukee").