It's funny how life works sometimes.
Several years ago, I was driving along, listening to the radio when a song came on, a singer I had never heard before. It was a woman with a stunning voice, beautiful and unique. Soaring high notes, velvety low notes, and emotionally soothing everywhere in between. I remember being so captivated I had to pull over to the side of the road because it's hard to drive while weeping. The singer was Julia Fordham.
When I was asked a short while later, in some interview, "Who do you listen to in the car," I said, "A great British singer/songwriter named Julia Fordham -- you should check her out." A few days later I got a very nice phone call from Ms. Fordham, thanking me for the plug. I told her it was my pleasure, and how much I loved her music. We chatted for quite a while -- she's a lot funnier than anyone that lovely and talented needs to be. And then that was it; we didn't cross paths for years.
Flash forward to about a year and a half ago. My wife and I are at a movie and who do we bump into sitting behind us? Julia Fordham. We catch up, have a few laughs and exchange numbers.
The next day I get an inspired idea. I called her up and proposed something kind of odd; I shared that I had started writing music again (I was a composition major in college a thousand years ago but was only now getting back to it) and that I had one particular little piece I thought was promising, but wasn't sure what it wanted to be.
"This may be crazy," I said, "but would you want to, maybe, come over and play around with it with me and see if maybe there's a song here?"
She said, "Sure."
So we got together and in seemingly no time at all, she took this half-baked tune of mine, came up with a brilliant set of lyrics and turned it into a really beautiful song.
"Wow! Should we push our luck? Wanna try another one?"
She said, "Sure."
And out comes another really beautiful song. This serendipitous collaboration was working out nicely.
A few months and many, many cups of tea later (I thought that was a tired old cliché, about the British and their tea; it's not. They can't get enough of it.) we had almost an album's worth of songs. All really nice, and all really, really melancholy. I'm not sure why but that's what kept coming out; bittersweet songs about loves that have died, loves that are dying, loves that you wish would do you a favor and die... surprisingly heavy stuff for two pretty contented people. (I wanted to call the album "Why So Sad?" but have been dissuaded.)
As we set out to write the last song (ten always seemed the right number to aim for) I thought, maybe we should write something a bit more uplifting -- so people don't listen to this album and then feel the need to go kill themselves. So I wrote something, and as had become our routine, sent it off to Julia and waited to see what it would become.
Well, as fate would have it, the next day, Julia struck up a conversation with a woman who happened to have a son in the military, serving in Afghanistan. The woman talked about how she prays for his safe return. How she cradles his pictures, how she clings to his letters, how she struggles to prepare for his return, though never certain just when that might be. Heavy stuff.
About a day later, Julia sent back a set of lyrics that just floored me. The song was simply a love letter from those left behind to those sent far away, into harm's way, in the name of service. And just as importantly, it was a love letter going back the other way from soldiers in the field to their loved ones at home. Because surely the families left behind - the mothers who get the food on the table and the kids out the door to school every day, and the children who have to put on a brave face and await the (hopefully) safe return of their parents -- what they do every day is without question heroic, and goes mostly unnoticed. The song was called "UnSung Hero."
Again, as fate would have it, a few weeks later Julia happened to be talking with another women. (This whole thing where she talks to people seems to be working out for her). Julia mentioned this new song she was so excited about. This woman, it turns out, was involved with Wounded Warrior Project -- an organization dedicated to the needs of severely injured service men and women. Upon hearing of the song, she invited us to perform it at a fund-raising event being held in our area.
So last week -- on 9/11 as it happens -- Julia and I drove down to Laguna beach to perform this one song. The response was truly humbling. Veterans, retired generals, wives of returning soldiers, all came over, teary-eyed and thanked us. "We feel sometimes like we're invisible," one woman, whose husband had returned from Iraq a few years ago and is still trying to regain his footing, shared with us. "That song made us feel like we're actually seen. That people know we're here." Heavy stuff.
I sent the song to a friend of mine who called me yesterday to say she was listening to it in her car, and in the middle of the song had to pull over so she wouldn't be driving and weeping at the same time.
So through this whole journey, I've learned a few things: 1) I'm not the only one who has to pull the car over when a Julia Fordham song is playing. She's so good she can actually be a safety hazard. And 2) More than a few people feel there are heroes in their lives who go unsung.
So for anyone who has answered the call to service -- any service -- and to anyone who helps make answering that call possible, this is for you, with much gratitude and all the respect in the world.
Listen to "UnSung Hero" below: