Jack’s Mannequin performs for pediatric cancer


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A young person who overcomes leukemia is an inspiration to those struggling with the disease. That inspiration becomes even stronger when a young singer/songwriter dealing with the crippling sickness uses his talent to provide treasured lyrics and melodies.

Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2005 while in his early 20s. The diagnosis came just months before the release of his first album with Jack’s Mannequin, Everything in Transit, after he split from the band Something Corporate.

McMahon’s story is inspirational to many, and it resonates strongly with those involved with University of Iowa Dance Marathon, a student organization that raises funds and awareness for pediatric cancer patients and research.

For this reason SCOPE members thought it would be a perfect match to work with Dance Marathon participants to promote awareness of pediatric cancer.

“I think this show is going to be pretty emotionally charged for a lot of people,” said Zac Isom, SCOPE’s public-relations and sponsorship coordinator. “Just with the band itself and the idea of people coming together.”

Jack’s Mannequin will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in the IMU Main Ballroom. Admission is $20 for students, $25 for general admission.

Jack’s Mannequin came together in 2004. The group from Orange County, Calif., performs indie rock with personal and emotional lyrics. The members include vocalist and bassist McMahon, guitarist Bobby Anderson, bassist Mikey “The Kid” Wagner, and drummer Jay McMillan. The band has recorded two studio albums, Everything in Transit and The Glass Passenger, which include such singles as “The Mixed Tape,” “Dark Blue,” “The Resolution,” “Swim,” and “Dear Jack.” The group has also released a series of EPs and expect to release a third studio album in 2011.

Members of SCOPE and Dance Marathon agree that combining forces allowed them to organize a better event for the concert’s audience this weekend. This concert marks the first event in several years in which these two student organizations have collaborated on a project.

“We saw it as a unique opportunity,” said Dance Marathon Executive Director Kyle Walters. “It is the start of bigger and better things to come.”

The concert is expected to include more than a set list of music. Walters said he hopes McMahon will take questions from the audience and share anecdotes about his experience during treatment.

The audience will include Dance Marathon participants as well as some of pediatric cancer patients and their families. UI students and members of the community are encouraged to attend.

Jack’s Mannequin is well-liked by fans because of the meaningful lyrics that accompany its melodies. This comes from the personal and therapeutic approach McMahon is known to take when writing music.

McMahon’s story provides support and inspiration through the music for these kids. For example, his song “Caves” from Jack’s Mannequin’s most recent album, The Glass Passenger. The lyrics are a metaphor for his experience of feeling trapped in a hospital room for many days during treatment:

“I’m caught somewhere in between alive and living a dream. No peace. Just clicking machines in the quiet of compazine. The walls caved in on me. And she sings, my bird dressed in white. And she stings my arm in the night. I lie still. Still I’m ready to fight. Have my lungs, but you can’t take my sight. The walls caved in tonight.”

McMahon uses his musical talents not only to describe his story but also to honor those close to him. He wrote the song “There, There, Katie” to thank his sister for donating her stem cells to him. The song was featured on The Dear Jack - EP. He received the transplant the same day that his album Everything in Transit was released in 2005.

Since that time, McMahon’s health has improved, and he has been able to continue his musical career. In fact, at a show in Milwaukee in 2006, he told his fans that it would be the last night he would have to take medication for his cancer treatment.

Some members of the audience for the Nov. 7 show will be able to personally relate to McMahon’s journey.

It is exciting for Walters that this event appeals to some of the Dance Marathon-funded patients who are teenagers. He said there is a lot to do with younger patients, but the concert is something he thinks the older kids will enjoy.

These deeply emotional lyrics relating to McMahon’s strength to overcome leukemia are sure to resonate with the Iowa City audience this weekend.

“I think it would be very difficult not to be motivated by these stories,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore. “Everyone who hears these stories has to recognize how genuine those experiences are.”

Not unlike the children in the Pediatric Cancer Center at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, McMahon underwent months of treatment. During the difficult time, he shared blog posts with his fans about his condition. For example, he posted the song lyrics to “Cellular Phone,” which the band recorded in 2007.

He also recorded footage of his struggle during treatment, from which he created a documentary titled Dear Jack.

The film is one of the many ways in which McMahon shared his experience with those who can relate, such as the patients who Dance Marathon supports.

Dance Marathon’s 17th-annual 24-hour “big event” will take place on Feb. 4 and 5, 2011. However, the organization hosts such events as the Jack’s Mannequin concert year round to support children with different types of pediatric cancer.

“The support of the UI for pediatric oncology patients and their families is very important,” Moore said. “We deeply appreciate the efforts of all the students.”

Jack’s Mannequin’s performance is something that can bring joy to the lives of kids who live the reality of the disease.

“[McMahon’s music] is definitely music that can touch people even if they haven’t had that happen,” Isom said. “It can translate really well.”

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