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While McMahon was working on Everything In Transit, he became friends and collaborated with probably the last person with whom you would associate him—Tommy Lee. McMahon’s piano-driven, melodic, emotive rock isn’t what you would expect to grab the attention of a hair-metal icon. “And who would have known we would have been so chummy?” McMahon says, laughing.
The Mötley Crüe drummer dug Something Corporate, particularly stuff off North, and wanted to work with McMahon on what would become Lee’s 2005 release, Tommyland: The Ride. So he gave the youngster a call.
“And I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, cool.’ Tommy wanted me to come in and write songs with him,” McMahon recalls. “I dropped everything I was doing that day and rolled into the studio with him up in the Hollywood Hills and began this six-month stint in which we were recording and writing together, and he ended up playing on Everything In Transit. He even sat in with us for a couple of songs at a show.
“We don’t get to see each other as often as we used to, but when we do, it’s always a great reuniting. He’s been a good friend to me over the years, for sure.”
That good friend can be heard narrating Dear Jack. Originally meant to capture the making of Everything In Transit, the film wound up documenting McMahon’s 2005 fight with cancer with intimate, hand-held footage. It’s the visual equivalent of flipping through the most brutal pages of someone’s diary, though McMahon maintains a brave face and his winning sense of humor throughout. Viewers witness his hair falling out in clumps as he endures radiation treatments, as well as his breakup with his longtime girlfriend Kelly, another Dana Hills High graduate.
McMahon admits that he found it difficult to view—and that’s why it took so long to make. In order to get through the process, he had to remove himself from the story and approach Dear Jack from a filmmaker’s perspective. When the documentary was completed, he had reservations about putting that much of his personal life out for public consumption, but by then, it was too late.
“People assume they know a lot about me because I’m pretty open and my songs are often autobiographical, but at the same time, I’ve done quite a bit to make sure my private life is still private,” he says. “So it was scary to give people that much of a window into how I interact with the people close to me.
“That said, the value of the story and what we thought we were going to be able to accomplish raising money with the movie and giving people who had maybe dealt with a similar situation a touchstone seemed important enough to push forward and,” he continues with a laugh, “I had already agreed to do it three years ago.”
Although Dear Jack is named after a song he had written before his illness about someone he knew who suffered from childhood leukemia, it has a happy ending. McMahon and Kelly reunited and have been married for three years, and thanks to a stem-cell transplant from his sister Kate, who is 17 months his senior, McMahon’s leukemia remains in remission. “I have this conflict about people saying, ‘You saved him,’” says Kate, who lives in San Francisco. “It’s such a no-brainer. I couldn’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t do that. I would have amputated my right arm for him.”
In 2006, McMahon founded the nonprofit charity the Dear Jack Foundation to raise funds for cancer research; proceeds from the sale of the DVD, which can be purchased at DearJackMovie.com, go to the foundation. And in January, Jack’s Mannequin announced their fall 2009 acoustic tour had raised more than $10,000 for Dear Jack.
“Andrew showed he was stronger than any of us and has never wavered in his commitment,” says his father, Brian McMahon. “I’m extremely proud of what he’s done with the Dear Jack Foundation, fighting leukemia and fighting for leukemia research; it’s a mission for the rest of his life.”
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With his father in tow, McMahon shows up at the Viper Room’s downstairs bar for a last-minute show he had booked to prep for a Jack’s Mannequin tour, kicking off Feb. 5 in Seattle. “Welcome to band practice,” McMahon tells the giddy crowd shortly after taking the stage. His parents, wife and Warner Bros. rep are in attendance, as are diehard fans who managed to purchase tickets for the sold-out show announced via the band’s MySpace site that morning. At the door, people drop names in an effort to gain entrance.
Guitarist Bobby Anderson grapples with a malfunctioning amp throughout the beginning of the show, affording McMahon a chance to deviate from the set list and debut a new song that he performs solo on piano. “Hanging out on Laguna Beach this summer, this was the first song I wrote,” he says of “Ten Days Gone.”
Returning to the set list, the four-piece elate fans with “The Lights and the Buzz.” “We’ve never played this live,” McMahon says of the iTunes single, which was the first song he wrote after his stem-cell transplant. His sonorous voice teems with a sense of optimism.