Christmas has come early for Jim Brickman and Five for Fighting (real name John Ondrasik). The two successful songwriters and musicians have teamed up for a holiday-themed tune that honors U.S. military personnel. “Christmas Where You Are” has recently been released as a single and also on Brickman’s latest album, A Joyful Christmas.
Brickman is the best-selling solo pianist of his generation, having earned 21 albums in the number-one spot and 32 Top 20 radio singles. As Five for Fighting, Ondrasik has sold more than 3 million records, and he’s the man behind such mega-hits as “Superman,” “100 Years,” “World” and “The Riddle.”
“Of course, John and I have known each other for many years, but we had never written together,” Brickman said in a joint interview with Ondrasik. “We had a chance to meet a couple of years ago and try out a writing session, and we kind of came to the consensus that we could write any hit song anytime. We’re both really capable of that, but that if we were going to write something together, it should be meaningful. So the next time we got together, we decided, why not really do something that has impact with our music? And that’s how we came together to write this song after a couple of writing sessions of just meeting over the past couple of years.”
Ondrasik said when he’s writing a song, usually the melody and lyrics are at the front of his mind, but this time the concept and inspiration took centerstage. Their combined love of the U.S. military led them down a creative path, and they never turned back.
“We just started talking about our history and love for the military, and how our different work with the USO [United Service Organizations] has inspired us,” Ondrasik said. “It just kind of struck me. Has anybody written a Christmas song for the troops? And certainly with Jim’s history in Christmas and kind of Googled around, and we didn’t really find one. That was a very inspiring idea to us, and I was actually very pleased to not have to play the piano on a song. I had a great piano player come up with some of the music and is going to show his magic, so for me, it was kind of cool to be lyricist-singer guy and kind of let Jim sit at the piano and kind of wear that hat. So it was a lot of fun, and like certain songs that have that kind of inspiration, it came together very quickly.”
Independently of “Christmas Where You Are,” Brickman had planned for a Christmas album this year. The fact that both projects came together was a perfect example of musical serendipity. “The two were unrelated until John and I really felt like this was something we wanted to release this year,” Brickman said. “It was a nice welcome surprise as an addition.”
The two have similar musical sensibilities and similar appreciation for the military, but their family backgrounds are different. Ondrasik, for example, does not come from a military family, while Brickman does.
“I have no family in the military,” Ondrasik said. “‘Superman’ had become one of those songs around 9/11. I started getting emails from our troops in Iraq telling me how that song and other songs kind of helped them in so many different ways. Some would listen to the song before they went on mission; some would listen to it when they got back from mission to kind of reconnect with the real world. Some saw it as a connection with home and America, and I saw how music mattered to our troops. And I started doing events for various charities and then started going on USO tours and then started working with Gary Sinise on some of his ventures.”
The connection with Sinise has continued to this day. A portion of proceeds from the single’s sale will benefit the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need, and Ondrasik’s charity, What Kind of World Do You Want.
“The more I got to meet our soldiers, the more inspired I was and the more determined I was to tell their story,” Ondrasik said. “On every Five for Fighting record, there is a song that talks about our troops’ reality, especially when it comes to their families, so when we started thinking about this song, certainly I think every day is a day we should celebrate our troops. But certainly Christmas is a very hard time for our soldiers and the military families when they’re apart, so I thought it was a fitting time and a fitting way to say thank you, and that we appreciate the sacrifice you make, one of those being away from your families on these special days. Certainly it’s hard to be away from your family any day, but Christmas, I think, is harder. So, for me, my experience with the troops and kind of knowing who they are and talking with their families over 20 years kind of was the impetus to try and tell their story and say thank you at the same time.”
Brickman knew about the military because of his father’s connection.
“My dad was in the Army when I was growing up,” Brickman said. “He was stationed in Fort Bragg, [North Carolina,] and he wasn’t a lifer in the military. But I definitely grew up in that, and then he moved to Virginia Beach, [Virginia,] and got very involved in the naval academy. And so for me, it was in the periphery. It wasn’t his life work, but it was certainly an inspiration. And then over the years we’ve been involved with veterans’ organizations, giving them tickets to our concerts and being involved in the Operation Care Package with USO and volunteers getting together to put packages together for Christmas for the troops overseas. It’s become a part of our lives, and a lot of music is dedicated to patriotism and to the men and women of the armed forces.”
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com