It was the fall 2001 when my sister and I decided to attend our high school's talent show on a whim. Not expecting to see much talent on display, I let my mind wander for the majority of the evening. That is, until a piano rolled onto the stage and a student performed a 10-minute song. The next day, I couldn't get the song out of my head; I had to figure out the song and artist immediately.
It was "Konstantine," written by Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate.
In 2002, I saw Something Corporate for the first time. They performed at the now-closed Bash on Ash in Tempe. I arrived at the concerts six hours early in hopes of meeting McMahon. I did, and he was everything I had imagined: kind, warm, and genuine, with a crooked smile you just never forget. As it started to pour, McMahon even invited me and my then-boyfriend inside to take cover and watch them perform during soundcheck.
Flash forward 15 years later, and I've seen McMahon perform more than a dozen times, inked some of his lyrics on my body, and given him a handwritten note thanking him for saving and inspiring my life. His music has become the soundtrack to my life.
McMahon is a survivor. He has survived two bands (Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin), heartbreak, and leukemia. On June 1, 2005, McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia. Coincidentally, that was the same day he finished recording Jack's Mannequin's first album, Everything in Transit. McMahon subsequently underwent chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant that ended up saving his life.
Since announcing he was in remission in October 2005, McMahon has gone on to release three albums and three EPs. He started a charity called The Dear Jack Foundation (which raises funds for cancer research), married his high school sweetheart, and welcomed a daughter into the world.Much like any musician, McMahon's discography has become more like an autobiography, documenting his triumphs and failures over the last 20 years.
And he continues making some of my all-time favorite music. Here's a look back at some of McMahon's best and absolutely essential songs. Take a listen before his scheduled performance as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness at Tempe's Marquee Theatre on Tuesday, May 2.
This is McMahon's most recent single from his group Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. It's classic Andrew McMahon, and reminds me of the songs off of Jack's Mannequin's Everything in Transit: fun with a touch of hopeless romanticism. As he sings, "You're number one / You're the reason I’m still up at dawn / Just to see your face," it's hard not to swoon just a little bit.
Fresh off the breakup of Jack’s Mannequin, McMahon did some experimenting with "Synesthesia." It contains a lot of synth and a lot of pop, and it works. McMahon proves that he doesn’t need a piano to make a great song. You almost forget that he’s the king of piano pop when he sings, “I see colors when I hear your voice.”
A classic piano rock song, "Hurricane" makes you want to get out of your seat and dance. It screams of teenage angst and Hot Topic, but what gives this song depth is the bridge. The piano breakdown and McMahon singing “With your babies breath / Breathe symphonies / Come on sweet catastrophe” makes the pop-punk lover in all of us come alive.
"Watch the Sky"
A bonus track off of Something Corporate’s North album, this song is pure Andrew McMahon. It features his obsession with all things outer space, beautiful piano stylings, and lyrics that make you yearn for more. The chorus speaks for itself when McMahon sings, “And I will crawl, theres things that aren't worth giving up I know / But I won't let this get me I will fight / You live the life you're given with the storms outside / some days all I do is watch the sky.”
"When it Goes Down"
Off of Something Corporate's 2000 Ready...Break album, this is one of my favorite deeper cuts. You can tell McMahon was young when he produced this based on his voice and the unusual song structure. Following the story line proves to be challenging yet rewarding. Also, who can forget lyrics like "And I started holding on to things I couldn't keep / And the wise ass called me f****t but I feel more like a creep"?
Read on for more Andrew McMahon essentials.
"Me and the Moon"
Something Corporate's album North was one of Andrew McMahon's darkest albums. The piano here is powerful and haunting. McMahon talks about a woman in a troubled marriage, but the lyrics "You marry a role and you give up yourself until you break down" seem applicable to almost any troublesome point in life.
This was a hidden track on Jack's Mannequin's Everything in Transit, but I think it should have been a single. Maybe it's because he mentions Arizona, or maybe it's because he says one of the best lyrics of all time: "There are some things I'll never understand / Why a country needs a God and a woman needs a man."
Seemingly written from his hospital bed, “Caves” is a beautifully honest song about McMahon’s battle with leukemia. It starts off slow as McMahon sings “My bird dressed in white / And she stings / My arm in the night.” But around the three-minute mark, the guitar riff kicks in and he sings, “As far as I can see / Walls are caving in / Doors got locked for sure / But I see these doors have keys.”
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A heartbreaking song about the pursuit of happiness and acceptance, "Cavanaugh Park" is from Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window album. Despite the chorus where McMahon repeats, “There was never any place for someone like me to be totally happy,” he reminds us that he’s a survivor with the line, “You always said destiny would blow me away / And nothing's gonna blow me away.”
This is the song that got me into music. Now, a 10-minute song can seem daunting even to the most devout music lover, but "Konstantine" isn’t just another song. It’s an anthem. It’s the voice of the young, broken-hearted lover. The song is love: sometimes confusing, sometimes chaotic, but worth the madness no matter how much time has passed. In the words of McMahon himself, “It's to dying in another’s arms and why I had to try it.”