As most back stories to songs do, this one begins with a woman. In this case, it's the powerful force of nature known as Laura Ziskin - not just a cancer survivor, but a cancer fighter. When she's not making movies about superheroes, she's off being one with her Stand Up To Cancer cohorts. I met Laura at an event about a year or so ago, and we connected immediately. I am drawn by "big idea" people, who attempt such seemingly impossible feats with such gusto and vigor you are confident they will succeed. So one big idea person met another big idea person and we started talking music and cancer.
Laura mentioned she was looking for an anthem for Stand Up To Cancer - something that would inspire conviction but also acknowledge all the loss this disease has caused. I went home that night thinking about the friends and family whose lives have been lost to this vicious disease. And I thought a lot about the mission of Stand Up To Cancer, the possibilities of doctors and scientists working together, and whether a cure would happen in my lifetime. I thought of Laura's tenacity and how she is unafraid to face cancer. I also thought about how the word cancer is so scary people hardly want to say it, let alone sing it. I thought if we can't speak it, how are we to defeat it? So it was important for me to put the word "cancer" in the chorus. I wanted people to confront the word in the song. Several of my friends and fellow musicians have suggested I remove it. But I thought, that's the whole point. We have got to say it - as painful as it is. We have got to say it.
I was writing with my dear friend, violin virtuoso Ann Marie Calhoun, at the time. The next morning we started sketching out the song. Ann Marie began playing an inspiring and hopeful melody and I gently began laying in the lyrics . . . "You've got a lot living up to do/You've got a lot of loving left in you." In the song the present is juxtaposed against the future. And that is cancer in a nutshell. It makes things finite. If you are diagnosed, it makes you evaluate your present and question the future. What have you done with your life? What will you do with your remaining days? And the song went from there.
Ann Marie and I called Laura after we recorded the demo. She asked us to come down and play it for a bunch of doctors and scientists on their advisory board. On a whim, Ann Marie and I grabbed our demo and a little boom box and headed to a hotel meeting room. Now, I have played in front of hundreds of thousands of people before. But this was debuting a song in front of a very smart crowd that lives and breathes cancer every day. I will admit I was kind of nervous. I had to sing this word in front of them. I had to sing their word in front of them. And we started. All I can say is something magical happened in that performance. By the end of the song, doctors and scientists were standing and singing the chorus. It must of have been quite a release for them.
Eventually, I asked Joss Stone to help me sing the song and record it for a series of Stand Up To Cancer PSAs. Joss' voice is so powerful and soulful -- it gave the song and the word a new dimension. When she sings, it is defiance. When Ann Marie plays, it is elegiac and at times mournful. That is the dichotomy of the 12 million cancer survivors -- fighting in spite of your fears.
I wrote this song not just for me, not just for Stand Up To Cancer, not just for the scientists, but for you -- your mother or brother or anyone afflicted with this terrible disease. We want to collect hundreds, maybe thousands of voices singing this song and this chorus. Below is a link to the contest, the mp3 of the song, and the lyrics. Take the song and make it your own. Record it, film it, and stand up for those you've loved, those you've lost or those in the fight. Stand Up To Cancer.