For most of us, music is a temporary release and escape from the realities of everyday life. It’s one of the few things that has just about a unanimous approval rating in this world. And for those of us who have the talent to create music ourselves, that passion and love for the art is only amplified. Today I want to put the spotlight on one major artist who combines his talent as a songwriter to make a difference in the lives of others. His name is Andrew McMahon.
Before I go any further, I believe it is worth noting that I am personally an enormous fan of McMahon. I’ve been listening to his music since I was 11-years-old and it has spoken to me in ways I have difficulty explaining sometimes. I could literally talk about the man for hours. In fact, the name of this very blog is derived from a very popular quote from McMahon in which he compares the shape of an asterisk to the way that all people and all things are connected, regardless of the different paths they may take. It’s very philosophical and it’s remarkably vivid depiction of the people we see and deal with on a daily basis. Many fans have gone as far as to get the asterisk tattooed on themselves, usually with their favorite McMahon lyric to go along with it. Because of my admitted bias and fandom, I had serious reservations about ever writing this article but I figure there’s more to McMahon that the common man and even those fans who don’t follow him closely should definitely know so I finally gave in and decided to write this piece.
Andrew McMahon began writing music at just nine-years-old. He started playing piano by ear and was largely influenced by his mother and his uncle Stewart, whom he had an incredibly close relationship with. But when his uncle passed away due to complications of Melanoma, it had a drastic effect on Andrew. His mother recalls “…for three days, Andrew could not stop crying.” His sister Kate, took their uncle’s tragic death as a sign. “We used to say that Andrew got his talent through Stewart when he died and that he was going to live the rest of his life through Andrew.”
After learning to read music and getting real piano lessons as a kid, Andrew was determined to find any outlet he could to play his music. He started his first major band, called Something Corporate with a group of friends in high school. Like any successful musician, McMahon and Something Corporate had to endure many humble beginnings. They played school talent shows, a local battle of the bands competition, and even mini concerts performed in Andrew’s own house, literally on his staircase.
After releasing their first demo album entitled “Ready…Break“ in 2000, Something Corporate signed their first major record deal with Drive-Thru Records. A year later, they released the four-track EP “AudioBoxer“. The band’s punk rock sound was successful enough for them to release their first full-length major label album “Leaving Through The Window“ in 2002. The last major Something Corporate album “North“ was released in October of 2003. Not long after the album was released, the band decided to take an extended break and members of the band, including McMahon went on to pursue other projects. In 2010, the band got back together for a reunion tour and released a greatest hits album called “Played In Space“.
While Something Corporate remained on hiatus, McMahon began a side project known as Jack’s Mannequin, named after one of his childhood friends. The first record “Everything In Transit“ was critically acclaimed after its release in 2005 but months before the album’s release, McMahon began losing his voice while on tour promoting the new album. After that and a host of other symptoms, Andrew went to go see his voice doctor in New York City. After a series of extensive tests, McMahon got a call a few days later from the doctor about his blood work. When he got the call, Andrew was in the studio and had just finished mastering Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album. The doctor told Andrew that he didn’t know how the musician was even walking around, because his blood work had come back so anemic. Andrew then took a cab to New York Presbyterian Hospital where he was admitted into the leukemia ward. After more tests, Andrew was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the ripe age of just 22.
The fight was a difficult one that included a serious pneumonia scare, the effects of chemotherapy, and even McMahon’s chilling contemplation on whether or not to write a will, should he end up not making it. There was a lot of hope in Andrew as well. He has a tattoo on his arm above where they fed the chemo through that reads “be positive.” He took it as a sign. And sure enough, after months of treatment, Andrew opted to undergo a stem cell transplant that could potentially save his life. He needed a perfect match, and that’s exactly what he got through his sister Kate. On August 23rd, 2005 Andrew had his stem cell transplant on the same day that Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album was released to the public. It is said that the first 100 days after a stem cell transplant are the most crucial for a patient’s survival. With no issues, on the 100th day after the transplant, Andrew played his first show since his diagnosis to a small, invite only crowd in Los Angeles. McMahon also chronicled his fight against the disease in a 2009 documentary called Dear Jack.
Andrew and Jack’s Mannequin went on to record two more albums after he got better. The first, “The Glass Passenger“ was in many ways a reminder of the disease for McMahon and he was on the record as saying that he hated that album for quite some time. For fans who knew Andrew’s fight and story beforehand, it was a really chilling album if you listened between the lines. Still, fans still loved the record as it provided some of McMahon’s best tunes to date. Jack’s Mannequin’s final album, “People and Things“ was released in 2011 and featured a distinctly different sound then the previous two albums. Andrew decided it was time to retire the Jack’s Mannequin moniker and pursue a solo career. The band played their final show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on November 11th, 2012.
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
After taking a brief break from music, Andrew released a four-track EP under his own name in 2013 entitled “The Pop Underground“. Andrew and his wife Kelly had their first child while Andrew was working on a new record in 2014. Cecilia Kate McMahon was the couple’s first born daughter and would soon be the subject matter of her father’s hit single “Cecilia and the Satellite”.
Andrew spent weeks writing new music in the Santa Monica mountains in a place called Topanga Canyon. He worked out of a shack that had no internet and no running water. He wrote his new record quite literally in the wilderness and it’s just part of the reason he changed his stage moniker to Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. He released his new album under the same name in 2015 and was his most successful album to date. Just today, he released his newest album called “Zombies On Broadway“.
The Dear Jack Foundation
What makes McMahon so special is the fact that he has been incredibly active in trying to help out others who suffer from the same disease he did. Just a short time after he was in remission, Andrew launched the Dear Jack Foundation in hopes to help out adolescent and young adult cancer patients ages 15-39 who are known as “the forgotten demographic” of cancer patients because many hospitals don’t know how to treat some of them as an adult or as a child. McMahon holds an annual benefit concert every November to raise funds for his cause as well as an annual golf outing. But if you can’t attend the benefit show or make it out to California to play a round of golf, every single show McMahon plays across the country has a booth set up to get fans on the bone marrow registry list to help out those in need of matches like the one Andrew got from his sister Kate. It is completely free and is just a quick swab of the cheek to potentially help save someone else’s life. The Dear Jack Foundation has raised over $1 million for cancer research since its founding and has partnered with groups like Love Hope Strength and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
It is now 2017 and McMahon is 12 years removed from his disease and will likely be around making music for a long time and helping others along the way!