By Larry Widen Special to OnMilwaukee Published Aug 09, 2022 at 5:01 PM

“Thanks to Thomas Edison, music has always spoken to us,” said Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik in a recent interview with OnMilwaukee. “Through jazz, the blues, Elvis, rock and roll."

The Grammy nominated singer/songwriter will perform at The Pabst Theater on Wednesday, Aug. 10. After more than twenty years as a musician, Ondrasik has enjoyed success with Gold and Platinum album sales in the millions. Ondrasik’s songs have been featured in more than 250 films, television shows and advertisements. His tunes have been included in the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side” (“Chances”), “Hawaii Five-O” (“All for One”) and “The Sopranos” (“World”), just to name a few. He has also penned tunes for artists ranging from Josh Groban, Tim McGraw, Backstreet Boys and more.

In addition to making music, Ondrasik channels his desire for a more humanitarian world into performances for the USO as well as keynote speaking engagements across the globe. A great supporter of the U.S. military, he has given away five volumes of “CD for the Troops” compilation albums to our U.S. Armed Forces. Over one million copies have been distributed to soldiers worldwide. Additionally, the charity site, inspired by Ondrasik’s song “World,” has raised more than $250,000 for five designated charities: Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront. 

More recently, Ondrasik launched a web series: "Meet The Heroes,” which features the musician interviewing heroic Americans involved in the rescue and evacuation of American citizens, SIV holders, Green Card Holders and other persons of high risk from Afghanistan.

During his OnMilwaukee interview, Ondrasik talked about issues facing the world today, and ways his music and other forms of art can be a part of a global solution.

OnMilwaukee: Some of your music uses events such as 9/11 and the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal to call for an increase in humanitarian or moral actions by people with the power to do so. Is there any risk in mentioning people in a song? 

John Ondrasik: The Afghanistan withdrawal was a moral issue, not a political one. If a Republican were president, my song “Blood on my Hands” would have remained the same, only the names would change. I would suggest not naming names also carries a risk. Many Afghan veterans were gutted by the abandonment of their Afghan brothers and felt Generals (Mark) Milley and (Lloyd) Austin dishonored the uniform in their role, and refusal to resign. In calling them out by name, that song provided a voice to those who felt voiceless and a modicum of solace.

When a story disappears from the news cycle, we tend to forget about it because the next thing comes along. Could your music document this time in our history?

I wish I could say yes, but I am pessimistic. “Blood on My Hands” might be an interesting footnote for some historical music scholar, but the nature of our culture is apathy and moving to the next TikTok. It is, in my opinion, a perilous mindset.

Do Americans take freedom and liberty for granted?

I think this generation has a diminished understanding of history and has grown up assuming their freedom is the natural state of things. I wish every American could have spent five days with me in Kyiv. I think their opinion would quickly change.

It’s scary to think a songwriter who makes powerful people uncomfortable can be effectively censored or silenced.

I agree. When YouTube took down “Blood on My Hands,” it was just another example of Big Tech advocating for a political tribe. America can only flourish when we can argue and test competing ideas and philosophies. Cancel culture and censorship is not only is an assault on free speech, but a crutch for those who can’t strongly argue their worldview. 

Maybe we can use more music instead of another speech from Donald Trump or Joe Biden?

I vote for Queen’s “Night at the Opera!”

Please talk about your current show. 

We are so excited be back on the road with the Five For Fighting rock band and our pals The Verve Pipe opening for us. Certainly, folks will hear songs like “Superman,” “100 Years,” “The Riddle” and “Chances” – but we play a song to recognize our veterans and military families as well. I will be playing my new song “Can One Man Save the World?” with the audio that I recorded in Ukraine with the Ukrainian orchestra. The audience will hear what I heard in our YouTube video that we filmed in Ukraine in the rubble of the Antonov airport outside of Kyiv. It’s a family show, so bring the kids and the grandparents.