Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik on ‘Superman’ Anthem and 9/11

By Andrea Dresdale, ABC News Radio

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspired many new songs, and others were adopted as symbolic anthems in the days that followed. Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” was one of the latter, and it profoundly changed both the career and   life of John Ondrasik, the man who records under the Five for Fighting name. 

Looking back on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, John tells ABC News Radio, “I think it’s not a coincidence that after 9/11, I started doing a lot of work with the military and with the USO, and charity work, and kind of [wrote] about our world in a macro view. I think the combination of 9/11 and my experience of having ‘Superman’ be that song, and the people I met through [it] and continue to meet … it can’t help but change you and … focus you in a certain direction.”

John was in London on Sept. 11, 2001,  getting ready to play a concert.  But it was canceled because of the attacks and he was stranded in the U.K.  for several days, glued to the news in his hotel room.  During that time, he tells ABC News Radio, “a  few of my friends started calling me and saying, ‘You know, they’re starting to use ‘Superman’ intercut with some of the footage showing the firefighters, the emergency workers, some of the families.’  But I really didn’t have a sense  till I got back what the song was starting to become.” 

The impact of the song really hit home for John, he says, when he performed at the Concert for New York City a month later.  The only nonsuperstar act on a bill that included Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bon Jovi,  Backstreet Boys and many more, John says he was pretty nervous about taking the stage to sing his one “hit.”  But, he says, “meeting the families, looking at the emergency workers, gave me a certain strength. When I went out there, you know … if you watch the tape, it was hard for me to get through it, ’cause you’d look out and you’d see people just singing and tears going down their face. Still to this day, it will be the most important thing I ever do as a singer-songwriter.  And I’m glad I was there … and I’m glad people took something from it.”  You can watch John’s performance again on Sunday when VH1 will air the Concert for New York City in its entirety, starting at 4 p.m. ET/PT.

As for why “Superman” — a song John wrote out of his frustration with the music business — was adopted as a 9/11 anthem, he tells ABC News Radio that he thinks it’s because of the song’s concept.  “The idea that you have this kind of superhero who is bleeding and hurting I think reflected … our nation’s tragedy,” he explains.  “It’s like, ‘Look, we’re America, we’re tough, we’re the best of the best and we kinda got hit and we’re hurting.’  I think the song kind of fit the sentiment of the times.”


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