Andrew McMahon had been filming the recording sessions for Jack’s Mannequin’s first album, Everything In Transit, in 2005 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Despite the grueling treatment ahead, the former Something Corporate singer felt compelled to keep the camera rolling during his fight with cancer.
Four years later, the footage of his treatment and recovery has been compiled into a documentary called Dear Jack, directed by Cory Moss and Josh Morrisroe. The film takes audiences inside the hospital, into Andrew’s permanently altered personal relationships, and the early days of his cancer research fund, the Dear Jack Foundation.
The DVD will be released Nov. 3 by Sire along with an accompanying EP, and all proceeds will benefit McMahon’s foundation.
The singer spoke to SPIN about the intimate nature of the songs and the film, his friendship with Dear Jack narrator Tommy Lee, and his passionate feelings about the nation’s current health care debate.
What inspired you to keep the camera rolling and record this experience on film?
Andrew McMahon: It was what my gut was saying. I had been given this camera by Maverick [Records]. I was filming not just the making of the record but I would carry it with me everywhere, for months. I feel weird saying it but it became kind of friend in a way. And then I got sick. I don’t think we ever intended for other people to see it, especially considering the nature of what was shot. But I think along the way we realized that having a window into that world from a first-person perspective might be of some value.
At what point did you actually decide to make the documentary?
It was about six months into my recovery. A couple of my close friends came to me and said, “Look, I don’t know if you’re comfortable with this, but if you let us see some of these tapes and figure out if there’s a way to put this together, we would be interested in doing it.” And I think because they were close friends and because I trusted them it became easier to do so.
How personal does the movie get?
Oh, it’s about as personal as you can get. It’s me with my video camera just trying to get things off my chest and film some of these scientific things that were being done to me, what went into putting this body back together. So, yeah it’s deeply personal, but it’s about the music too. We ended up focusing a lot on Transit and my separation from my girlfriend, for whom I wrote a lot of that record, who ended up at my side while I was fighting it and became my wife. And [it was] a period of time that my family and I weren’t as close, and they ended up at my side, too, really getting me well. So it’s a lot more of my dirty laundry than I’m used to airing.
How did Tommy Lee get involved as the narrator? Have you guys stayed in touch since you worked on Tommyland?
Absolutely. Tommy would come visit me in the hospital, and we talked regularly while I was recovering. He came out and played with us on one of our first shows back. We got close in that period of time, so when it came to finding a narrator, Tommy was a no-brainer.
What are the songs about on the Dear Jack EP?
There’s a song called “There, There, Katie,” which was half written during Transit, and the other half after I found out my sister would be my stem-cell donor. It’s a song about and for my sister. Diane from “Diane the Skyscraper,” was my nurse in the first week that I was in New York, getting diagnosed. It was really the only song that I wrote while I was in the hospital, probably on the second night that I was there, and did a demo of it a year or two later. I love the song.
With all of your experiences, what is your opinion on the healthcare debate?
I think it’s horrible. We’re sitting in a horrible place. I have health insurance and I went into the doctor’s office the other day and got sent a bill for $1100 after they went to my insurance company. I think there’s this crazy effort to stall, or accommodate the people who are robbing our entire society blind for the sake of profiting in the most grotesque way humanly possible over people’s diseases and illnesses. I was lucky. I had health insurance and a business manager. But it certainly was a topic of much conversation among myself, my friends and my family, that what if I had not been in such an advantageous place? I’m scared that they’re going to go “reform” the industry but make such a point to make concessions to these pigs who are robbing us blind that we might not actually get reform.
WATCH: An exclusive clip from Dear Jack