Since I first heard John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s band, The Plastic Ono Band perform “Give Peace A Chance,” and “Happy Xmas, War Is Over” and Edwin Starr’s “War” on the radio when I was a child, I began to realize more details about the horrors of war and then started developing a greater appreciation for peace.
I understand how conflicts arise between individuals, organizations and nations, but even as a child it made absolutely no sense to me why humans continue to accelerate conflict to the point where wars of violence and insanity are supposedly necessary to resolve those conflicts. Obviously, the conquest for land and resources is really what war is about, in other words, they are about economics in one way or another, but there is still hesitation for individuals, primarily leaders in all parts of society, to admit this. Everything about ‘Give Peace A Chance’ made perfect sense and still does of course and I knew one day that I wanted to be able to share these deep feelings.
In 2002, I was living in Indianapolis, Indiana and playing a lot of shows with my band that was called the Niswander Band. I even had my own variety show once a month at Birdy’s Live nightclub from 2001 to 2004. For the January show, after his passing in late 2001, I had to produce a special tribute to Beatle George Harrison and there was a great outpouring of local bands that shared my love for his music and wanted to likewise pay tribute.
It was also part of my band’s routine to frequently support local charity events. When I had previously lived in the Los Angeles area, I attended a few high profile charity events with a friend who would invite me when his girlfriend didn’t want to go with him. I had the privilege to play incidental music at an event for the L.A. Mission that was sponsored by veteran actor Mickey Rooney. Those experiences made me realize that there is a lot of awareness and money that is raised to help worthy causes and I wanted to connect with that kind of opportunity again.
As I was looking for information about an Indianapolis concert with another Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, I discovered an organization called Adopt-A-Minefield, a program of the United Nations of the United States of America. Paul had been dating a woman (who later became his wife) connected to this group and had started creating fund-raisers in 2001 in Los Angeles. Since I had lived in Southern California previously, I made a yearly trek and was planning a trip for the fall when his next event was happening. When I saw that Paul was going to perform with special guest Beach Boy Brian Wilson, I must say that initially got my attention. I then went to various websites starting with the Adopt-A-Minefield site and began reading page after page about all of the different kinds of landmines and how they had been used in wars for a hundred years. I saw horrific pictures of the victims especially the children and learned about the work of many global organizations and how governments, NGOs, some top military personnel, scientists and all sorts of humanitarians were working together to rid the world of these atrocious weapons of war.
Yes, that is what they are!
What started with a few e-mails led to some amazing experiences over the course of the next several years. I co-produced live events in Indianapolis as part of a program created by Adopt-A-Minefield called ‘Night of 1,000 Dinners’ to raise awareness and funding. They were local events happening all around the world at about the same time and of course somehow included food. Like the Harrison tribute in Indianapolis, our local events were annual shows with local bands that took place primarily at Birdy’s Live.
With a group of local activists and friends, we created a non-profit to produce live shows for charity and to also promote local and global events starting with Adopt-A-Minefield’s ‘Night of 1,000 Dinners’ in Indianapolis.
I continued to attend the yearly events produced by Paul McCartney in Los Angeles. In 2003, as an Adopt-A-Minefield media ambassador, I was the only Internet based reporter in the press corps. I worked next to British television network ITN so I was able to pick up interviews with Paul and his wife Heather, actor Michael Douglas and his wife actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and then even conducted my own interviews with talk show host Jay Leno and Mickey Rooney.
At the 2003 Indianapolis event of ‘Night of 1,000 Dinners’ we had two amazing special guests. Adopt-A-Minefield sent a speaker who was a high ranked female officer in the U.S. Navy and at the time also worked for the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. Before the evening began, she pulled me aside and gave me the same materials and overview that Sir Paul McCartney received when he visited the State Department to learn more about the landmine crisis, a subject that he initially learned about through the work of Princess Diana of Wales.
One of the musical highlights of the night was the performance of a local guitarist by the name of Alfonso Young who played with a group of local musicians. His set included his version of the rock classic “Hey Joe.” He once played in a band called the Presidents in the early 1960’s that for a while included 19 year old aspiring guitarist and discharged U.S. Army paratrooper by the name of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi went to Indianapolis to play music in a music scene (also bustling at that time) that featured predominately jazz players such as Wes Montgomery and Freddie Hubbard. The Presidents toured some in the south before he ventured off to New York City, but on one occasion when we jammed together, Mr. Young told me that he decided not to go with him. The rest was history of course.
In 2004, I attended a Landmine Awareness Festival in Coconut Grove, Florida and there I met an amazing group of humanitarians such as the English scientist that wrote the scientific manual on demining, a recycler and arts aficionado whose company melted down tons of metal taken from minefields, top personnel from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the State Department, military personnel including the Army General of the Southern Command, a once well-renowned opera singer turned orchestra conductor, deminers from NGOs all around the globe, and even the grand-daughter of President Dwight Eisenhower who was President of an organization that he created in the 1960’s called People To People International. It was truly amazing to meet so many humanitarians of all ages and backgrounds that had come together to draw attention to the humanitarianism alone!
The following year I was asked to write about all of these experiences. ‘Rock and Roll and Night of 1,000 Dinners’ was the article as their featured writer published in the spring 2004 Adopt-A-Minefield newsletter.
I often think about the night in 2002 when I first attended my first gala event for Adopt-A-Minefield in Century City. Of course there was the amazing performances of Paul McCartney and his band and Brian Wilson and his band. I danced with Mickey Rooney’s wife during “Good Vibrations,” there was the sing-a-long of “Hey Jude,” and Paul and Brian performed “God Only Knows” and “Let It Be” together. I had conversations with Brian Wilson about music, and producer and musician Jeff Lynne about working with George Harrison and the Beatles on their last recordings. All of the music and positive energy of the night was essential to lift our spirits while at the same time we did not deny the horrors of war.
Earlier in the evening we all watched a short film with pictures of numerous victims of landmine blasts. At the least tens of thousands of people lose limbs and even their lives each year including thousands of children in at least dozens of countries. Millions of landmines even from 20th century wars are still out there somewhere and we are a long way from being landmine free. Most developing countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol to ban landmines altogether, but as of now, the United States is not one of them on the basis that the original document doesn’t go far enough.
How could anyone think of creating something just for the selfish purpose of hurting or killing living beings and not even really considering the unintended consequences, too? It’s insane.
What have we learned about peace over the centuries as a human race?
It makes no sense to not at least give peace a chance. Though I met Paul McCartney a couple of times, I didn’t ask him about John Lennon, but I could only imagine what John would have to say about what has been happening since his work which most likely inspired these events and continues to open our hearts and minds to the needs for the sanity of real love and peace in our world and for each other.
What is next? WE DECIDE!
Love and Peace NOW,