The Healing Power of Music

Kait Richmond

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Jack’s Mannequin front-man Andrew McMahon released the highly anticipated Dear Jack, an intimate documentary that follows the musician through his battle with cancer.

McMahon had been carrying around a camera for the last six months, documenting the production of his new album Everything in Transit, when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Jun. 1, 2005. When things took a turn for the worst, filming became therapeutic.

“During the day or at the end of the day…I would sit down with the video camera and say, ‘Here is what’s going on today. Here’s where I am on the record. Here’s where I am in my head-space.’ It became this close friend of mine,” said McMahon.

Not expecting anyone to see his personal confessions, McMahon produced hours of heartbreaking footage. Most of the time, McMahon remained positive, even through his brutal hair loss. He took it step by step, starting with a buzz cut. Soon, he was merely removing his hair with a lint roller.

McMahon was candid, for the first time, about his then-girlfriend (now wife) Kelly throughout the footage. He had broken her heart, but she flew to see him when she received the bad news.

“He was calling to ask me to fly out and be with him…it’s a lot to ask someone that you’ve just been broken up with. But the minute I walked into that hospital room, I was just lying next to him the whole time,” said Kelly.

She is among those extensively interviewed in the documentary. McMahon’s parents, producer, and management are all featured as well. Perhaps the most important person, though, is his older sister Katie.

She donated her bone marrow for a transplant that McMahon received on Aug. 23, 2005. In return, he wrote and recorded “There, There Katie,” a song that is on the film’s accompanying EP. Katie said, “That song brought everything in our lives, in terms of my relationship with Andrew, full-circle.”

Following the successful transplant, Andrew was released into his parents care. He struggled at first, suffering from shingles and hallucinations, but made it to the 100-day anniversary of the transplant, and played a show in celebration.

To say that Dear Jack is the story of Andrew McMahon’s battle with leukemia is only partly true. It is a love story, an inspiring tale with music as the backbone. It is Andrew McMahon in his most vulnerable form, starting on Christmas Day in 1991 when he is pounding away at a piano, and following his incredible journey to the release of “The Glass Passenger” last year.

The film, narrated by Tommy Lee, was released on Nov. 3, 2009. McMahon also released a four-song EP that includes a simplified yet incredibly moving version of his latest single “Swim.”

McMahon’s message is one of hope; one that he is spreading through music. If Dear Jack can prove only one thing, it is the power of music.
“I truly believe that Andrew’s desire to get back to work and play music had an incredible impact on the speed of his recovery, if not his recovery itself,” said his father. “He was just so highly motivated, and wouldn’t allow himself, other than momentarily, to think that this just couldn’t work.”

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The Healing Power of Music