by Giacinta Pace, MSNBC
Each month, Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This month, Yoko Ono, Natasha Bedingfield and Pat Monahan tell us about their work with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a mobile audio and high-definition video recording and production facility on wheels that travels across the U.S. to give young people hands-on experience creating their own works of art.
With the help of the bus’s state-of-the-art equipment, these youths have the opportunity to work with celebs to write, mix, record and produce their own music. The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a nonprofit program that was started in 1998 in an effort to combat the cutbacks on music and art programs in schools. Its new bus was unveiled at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Natasha Bedingfield poses with the new John Lennon Educational Tour Bus
at its unveiling at CES 2008 in Las Vegas, on Jan. 6, 2008.
Cast of characters
Yoko Ono, Beatle John Lennon’s widow and avant-garde artist and musician, is well known for her philanthropy and political activism. Since her husband’s murder in 1980, Ono has worked tirelessly to keep her husband’s spirit alive. In addition to the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, she has lent Lennon’s name and music to a variety of projects including Cirque du Soleil’s “Love,” which has enjoyed a successful run at The Mirage in Las Vegas since 2006.
Natasha Bedingfield, one of the UK’s biggest female pop stars, has sold more than 10 million singles and albums worldwide. In 2007 she received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and is currently working on a new album while spending time with family in New Zealand.
Pat Monahan, lead singer of the Grammy award-winning band Train, released his first solo album “Last Of Seven” in 2007 and followed it with a nationwide tour. A smaller, more intimate acoustic tour followed, which inspired his second solo project “Last Of Seven Acoustic,” currently available via digital download only.
The “S.O.S. (Help Us Out)” song/video project featuring Yoko Ono, will.i.am, Natasha Bedingfield and Pat Monahan is the embodiment of the mission of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Four Las Vegas high school students and three UNLV film students collaborated with this star-studded lineup on “S.O.S.,” a new anthem for the modern peace movement. It was unveiled alongside the first of many new Lennon Buses at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.
Question: Can you explain a little bit about the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and your role with the organization?
Ono: My role was just the fact that I gave the permission to them in a way. David Sonnenberg and Brian Rothschild came to me and said they want to do this, is that all right? I thought it was a great idea. So I of course said yes and I’m just wishing well, that’s all. That’s my role [laughs], to wish well.
Q: What would John (Lennon) have thought about this program?
Ono: I think that John would have loved it and that’s why I immediately said yes. It’s the kind of thing that he would have really have wanted to do.
Q: What is your favorite part about it?
Ono: The fact that you know it’s good for the children, good for the next generation, especially children who really don’t have the chance to get into a sophisticated music studio and we’re giving them the chance. They’re so thrilled when this bus comes to town where not very much is happening and then, oh, it’s like the ice cream man coming, but it’s not the ice cream man. In the old days it would be the ice cream man coming…
Q: [Laughs] but now … it’s the tour bus is coming …
Ono: That’s right, yeah.
Q: Can you describe a moment where you felt you had personally made a difference in someone’s life through this? Have you been involved in it long enough to actually see some of the fruit of it?
Ono: There’s one photo, a photo of me with the kids and that was the beginning. When I saw that [photo] it just hit me. It was so beautiful, and of course at the time I didn’t know where this was going. But now it’s going. My feeling is that I really want this to happen in all different countries as well because it’s just very important.
Q: If you could say one thing to the world about children and music education, what would it be?
Ono: Well, the fact that all of the schools are sort of dropping music and art programs … it’s so sad, because those are the most important things in a children’s life — to be creative — and those are music and art. It’s a form of love and we should cover the earth with music and love so that it will be a more peaceful planet. Sure enough they’re dropping music and art from the school curriculum. So, it’s great to do this and keep on educating children in art and music. I really think that’s very important.
Q: What does the future hold for the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus?
Ono: Well, first there was a smaller, smaller, smaller bus and now there’s a grand, beautiful bus. I think there’ll be many people, many companies [who will] want to sponsor them. I really think that that will start to happen because it’s such a direct way of communicating with children and it’s good for companies to do.
Q: And is there anything else you’d like to add that perhaps I didn’t touch on that you feel very passionate about and want included?
Ono: I just want to let you know that there’s a new model for making peace out there and I really think that it’s great, that it’s connected with this in a sense. Music is power and music is a power of peace and so they’re making peace power by being here. It’s simple.
Q: OK. Thank you very much for your time.
Ono: So let’s all get together in our minds and IMAGINE PEACE.
Question: Why, when there are so many charities out there, do you choose this one to associate yourself with?
Bedingfield: I love the fact that it’s all about education. I do music and it’s my love and the fact that that is something that kids can get into really easily because of this charity, it really excites me.
Q: Why should people support this cause?
Bedingfield: Because they should! (laughs). If kids can get involved in something that they feel is really worthwhile, it gives them hope. That’s one of the reasons why this charity is called … it’s like one of the things that they say is imagine … Imagine Peace … because there are a lot of people talking about war and all of the awful things that are happening in the world and a lot of the kids don’t have any hope. I think that this bus represents peoples’ dreams and the fact that you can imagine dreams that do come true and you know it’s not that difficult.
My musical start was in a studio but it was like home-studio. My friends had computers and I would just go over after school. We’d just start messing around and it started off a hobby and just playing and gradually I just became hooked on it, on creating. Not just copying other people. It wasn’t about trying to be famous or something; it was about finding real enjoyment in being creative and making music, doing art.
Q: And you want to give that chance to others?
Bedingfield: That’s what I love about this! This is something that people just don’t watch music and think, ‘Oh wow that’s amazing.’ It’s accessible. It’s something that applies to them and it’s an amazing outlet, to let out everything that’s going on in your life. It’s very personal and everyone has something to say.
Q: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you personally made a difference in someone’s life through this?
Bedingfield: I’ve just become involved with this. The bus is going to come to some of the gigs on my tour so I’m extremely excited about it and it’s one of the dreams that I’ve had actually as well.
Q: What do you hope to give?
Bedingfield: What I would hope is that kids, students or people who are interested in music can come work on the bus with me and just see how easy it is to create and how fun it is, how life-changing.
Q: Is there any thing else that you would like to add?
Bedingfield: With the Internet, kids have discovered how interactive everything is and how people want to be involved in stuff now. You can create your own MySpace site, you can create videos on YouTube. It’s a really exciting time and I think that its great if there are people who can teach people how to do it in a good way as well so you have real quality.
Question: Why, when there are many causes out there, do you choose this one? What’s special about this one?
Monahan: When I think of spending time to do something that you can actually believe in, I think about inspiration and what kinds of things inspire people. I think music is one of those things that no matter what happens to the music industry or where it ends up, people are meant to do it. Children grow into teenagers and they grow into adults and they’re born to do it. These are just some of those things to remind people that, as funds get cut in public schools, there is still a growing desire for kids to have the means to be creative and inspire. Therefore ,it becomes a domino effect and more people can be inspired by it.
Q: What kinds of things can music and being exposed to recording music offer young people?
Monahan: The skills of recording and music are evolving all the time. The technology of today, I can’t fathom it all, it doesn’t always make sense to me. But as we build schools to support high-tech business, there’s also high-tech opportunities inside of music where you can be low-tech and have an acoustic guitar or you can be the guy running Pro Tools. There’s a way to make a really good lifestyle for yourself if you learn these different kinds of trades. Trades change, you know. It used to be masonry and now it’s Pro Tools.
Q: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you really made a difference in someone else’s life with this organization?
Monahan: This is my first opportunity to work with these guys so I don’t know. I really would love to be a part of it from now on.
Q: What do you hope the future brings?
Monahan: I didn’t know that artists had opportunities as well as non-artists to get involved with these things. I thought that this was, you know, I’m learning about it and that’s cool for me because then I know that other people will learn because I’m not the only dumb guy out there and I know some DUUUMB guys, ha-ha. I’m related to a couple (laughs).
Q: So what do you plan to be doing in the future? How are you going to be involved? Are you going to be a spokesperson or more officially involved?
Monahan: This is just the beginning. Right now I’m just going to do this and hopefully they’ll be inspired by what I do. I’ll be inspired by what they do and it’ll just be more fun.
Q: Are you going to visit some of the sessions?
Monahan: I’d love to get on that bus and cruise around for a month. Can you imagine how creative you can be and have different people jump in the bus in every city for a month?
Q: You’d have a new album in no time.
Monahan: You’d have a new album every day!
Q: Is there any thing else that you’d like to add that I haven’t touched on about your feelings about the organization or what The John Lennon Education Tour Bus means to children?
Monahan: You know, I could pretend that I’m a prolific profound man with all these words of wisdom but I’m sure that you’ve heard it all from people who are much more qualified than I. I’m just glad to have been asked to do this and would love to keep being asked to do it.
Brandon Wetzel, Charlie Gott, Blaise Sison II and Bri Lou, four Las Vegas High School students
who collaborated on the song/video “S.O.S. (Help Us Out),”
pose in front of bus at CES 2008 on Jan. 6, 2008.
Interviewed by Giacinta Pace, NBC News
photos by David Bjerke / © NBC Universal, Inc.
MSNBC Video here.