As a staff writer for Buddy Magazine, I get lots of Press Releases about new projects from music artists. But, when the Press Release came across my desk for this project, I knew I had to try and find a bigger platform to showcase it. To say it touched my heart is putting it mildly. I was blown away by the depth and the passion Texas songwriter, Dan Johnson, put into the Hemingway Project. Let me tell you a little about it.
Imagine you are a soldier returning home from Afghanistan or Syria or some other war-torn country. Maybe limbs are missing, or your body is scarred in some other way. Or perhaps deep in the recesses of your mind, thoughts and emotions are twisted with guilt.
At what point do you decide you have nothing more to offer and the world has nothing left to hold you?
Now you have the theme for Hemingway.
But it gets more personal, as I discovered in a recent interview with the tall bearded unassuming Texas Songwriter, Dan Johnson.
The day before Johnson turned eleven, his father, a U.S. Navy veteran, decided he could no longer cope and he took his life.
“My dad needed someone to personally connect with him. Someone to say the words to him that even though suicide might end his pain, it will amplify it for his loved ones for the rest of their lives,” Johnson said.
The story of how The Hemingway Project was born is astounding. Without a doubt, Johnson has a calling.
“It was a very specific moment for me,” Johnson recalled. “I was doing a show at Hoot’s in Amarillo. The manager, a good friend, is a Marine who came back with really tremendous post-traumatic stress. I asked why he’d changed his Facebook profile picture to a bloody red number twenty-two. He said he was part of ‘Twenty-Two Kill,’ and explained it is an organization that tries to help reduce veteran suicides through raising awareness. Then he told me there is an average of twenty-two veteran suicides per day. That nailed me to the wall. I knew I had to do something.”
Another layer of dimension to this project came directly from the famed author, Ernest Hemingway.
Johnson recalls that the song, “Hemingway,” came to him during a visit to the late great Ernest Hemingway’s home in Florida. Standing in the study where so many of Hemingway’s stories were born was the perfect catalyst. But, because of the grave subject matter, he didn’t do anything with the song until much later. After visiting with his friend at the club in Amarillo, he had a thought.
Johnson said, “I play around two-hundred shows every year, and I have a microphone. If I ran into this guy in a bar, something tells me there’s somebody in every single bar I’m in who has either been affected by this or is currently struggling with thoughts of suicide. It was then I decided I would sing the “Hemingway” song in the middle of every show I do and tell my dad’s story.”
I don’t know about you, but I cannot listen to this song without getting tears in my eyes. War brings nothing but tragedy and it is heart-breaking.
The rest of the ideas for the project came together at a bar in Ireland where Johnson was performing.
“I was playing in a bar in Ireland and as I always do, I sang the “Hemingway” song and told my story. After the show a man said he needed to buy me a drink. I could immediately tell he was an American. And, then he told me that I may have just saved his life.” Johnson paused and cleared his throat.
“This active duty soldier was hiding out in Ireland on leave because he could no longer stand the pain of going home. He’d done three consecutive tours of duty and killed far too many people to find any sense of normalcy. Each time he went home, he felt a greater disassociation with the people he loved. For him, it became more painful to see his family than to stay in war. He displayed all the warning signs that night. He started crying and told me how much it meant to him that I would take time in my shows to try to help people. So that was it. That’s when it all came together.”
Each of the five songs on Hemingway is deep and story-driven. Johnson brings the characters to life in each line, each lyric, each aching note.
When Johnson teamed up with Texas novelist, Travis Erwin, to create short stories to accompany each song, it took the Hemingway project into a much broader spectrum. With a writing style much like Johnson’s, Erwin weaves stories together in an intricate web of multi-dimensional characters and situations that are masterfully intertwined.
From graphic violence to exquisitely tender moments, Hemingway is a journey that touches everyone in some way. No one is spared.
Hemingway released on July 27. For more information about the project, the non-profit and Dan Johnson, visit http://www.operationhemingway.org.
Folks, I know this is a long blog, but believe me when I say I only hit the highlights. There is no short way to tell this story. I am deeply moved by the depth and passion of this project and by the phenomenal results. Dan Johnson often finds himself counseling someone who has reached that brink. And, he needs our help. There is a donation button on the OperationHemingway.Org site. It’s my birthday month, and this is the group I choose to support by asking for donations from family and friends. If you are so inclined, please join the fight.
Thank you! And PLEASE share everywhere! Together, we can make a difference.