John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting

by Carl Wiser

For many of us, John Ondrasik's songs have been a source of support along life's journey, chronicling the quotidian moments that can also be the most profound: playing catch with your son, having a chat with dad, listening to music.

The ones that have reached deepest are "Superman (It's Not Easy)" - a song that reminds us that even Superman gets sick of saving the world - and "100 Years," which takes us through a century of life, marking the turning points along the way.

This intimate, piano-based songwriter (can't you picture him singing the Cheers theme song?) sure picked an odd name for his musical moniker. Five for Fighting is the penalty you serve in hockey when you drop the gloves. The specific infraction that inspired it was called on Marty McSorley of John's beloved Los Angeles Kings.

John was born in 1965, so when "100 Years" was released in 2004, he had yet to reach the 45-year mark, where he sang that he would be "heading into a crisis, chasing the years of my life."
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): In "100 Years," you predicted a midlife crisis when you hit 45. How did that play out?

John Ondrasik: Missed it by two years.

Songfacts: How do you feel about that song now that you've passed some of those milestones?

Ondrasik: As you can grow up through the song, I never tire of playing it. That said, living the bridge ["Half time goes by, suddenly you're wise..."] is certainly different than that second verse ["A kid on the way, babe. A family on my mind"].

Songfacts: In an industry driven by ego, you keep your name and image out of the spotlight, which seems to keep the focus on the songs. Is that by design?

Ondrasik: Somewhat. I've always believed it's the songs that matter and the fact that the culture knows the songs, but not the guy, is oddly cool for me.

Songfacts: It's not your most famous song, but "The Devil In The Wishing Well" is very important to people affected by depression. What led you to write that song?

Ondrasik: Experience, observation, and a hope that people in the grasp can find their way out.

Songfacts: How much do you pay attention to song structures and the technical aspect of your craft?

Ondrasik: More than you'd think, though at the end of the day it's still melody and lyric. And work ethic.

Songfacts: What was the inspiration for your song "Chances"?

Ondrasik: The importance of "failure."

Songfacts: Which of your lesser-known songs is your favorite, and why?

Ondrasik: There is a song called "The Best" that is in an obscure film Everyone's Hero about a son and father's first baseball catch. I think I got that one right.

Ramaa Mosley directed the "Superman (It's Not Easy)" video - that's John's real-life (pregnant) wife and child in the clip. Mosley would later work on film projects, including Girl Rising, where she tells the story of a young girl growing up in Afghanistan.
Songfacts: What was going on in your life that led you to write "Superman (It's Not Easy)"?

Ondrasik: Frustration about the inability to be heard. Little did I know that in retrospect it was easier to be me than I thought. :)

Songfacts: Your songs have had a profound impact on many people. Is there one story that stands out about how someone's life was impacted by one of your songs?

Ondrasik: There are many. I hesitate to discuss them without permission. Let me say it is humbling to hear the stories and read the notes of folks who've been touched by my songs. It reinforces for me the unique power of music to affect lives... and at rare times, save them.

Songfacts: How has your songwriting changed over the years?

Ondrasik: Hopefully it has improved! My personal range of acceptability has certainly shrunk.

Songfacts: What are you working on these days?

Ondrasik: Writing a musical and a few other surprises... Cheers!

November 2, 2015.
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