In Mark Garvey's book Come Together: The Official John Lennon Educational Tour Bus Guide Music And Video, the award winning author goes behind the scenes of the Lennon Bus (www.Lennonbus.org) putting into perspective how the bus works to educate students from elementary school to college level about writing songs, the equipment they can use to record their songs, the technology implemented to shoot their own music videos, and the people involved with the Lennon Bus who put songwriting in the hands of local communities.
Garvey discusses the various roles in which the Lennon Bus plays to bring famous artists like Al Jarreau and Pat Metheny into its back room recording studio together with aspiring musicians for a one-time recording. The book also shows how the bus takes part in the John Lennon Songwriting Contests (www.jlsc.com), other songwriting contests sponsored by the Lennon Bus' benefactors or in connection with grassroots organizations, and its part on tours with friends of the JLSC like The Black Eyed Peas, The Bacon Brothers, the Montreal Jazz Fest, and a number of others. In addition, the bus attends music trade shows and conventions like MacWorld where the Lennon Bus is displayed as a functioning part of the music community and of music merchants by bringing music technology to local communities. Garvey outlines how the Lennon Bus achieves this goal by traveling across America and Canada each year from January to October, and keeping in the tradition of John Lennon, reaching people who want to learn about making music.
Like any good book, Garvey starts at the beginning with the Lennon Bus' Founder and Executive Producer, Brian Rothschild. Brian is a songwriter/composer/engineer born in New York City and a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts where he met his current business partner David Sonenberg who is currently a Music Director at DAS Ventures, Ltd. You may recall Rothschild from his days in the '80s new wave pop duo Iam Siam with Larry Fast, but it was not until the mid-'90s that Rothschild met Yoko Ono and asked for her permission to use John Lennon's name for the idea he had to launch yearly international songwriting contests with winners chosen in each music category. Ono gave Rothschild permission to use Lennon's name, image and self-portrait which you see on the website and the side of the Lennon Bus.
The John Lennon Songwriting Contests began in 1997 with a handful of categories and has expanded its range into High School Battle of the Bands challenges and essay contests through local newspapers like USA Weekend Magazine. The following year Rothschild and Sonenberg parlayed the contests into the Lennon Bus whose goal is go into local communities and encourage people to pick up an instrument and start playing. Its purpose is to function as an arm of music education. Garvey explains how three designated music engineers along with the Lennon Bus driver, Tony Spencer keep to a schedule that has them visiting new schools, college campuses, venues, and aspiring musicians each year.
Garvey presents the Lennon Bus making its debut in May 1998 at Chelsea Piers in New York City and the organizers creating an evening of it with The Imagine Party held at Webster Hall where Joan Osborne and Wyclef Jean performed. The account of the party recorded by Garvey from one of the staff engineers at that time, Dan Neustadt sheds light on the aim of the bus, "An interesting thing happened at that party," Neustadt documents. "There were lots of artists there including Wyclef Jean and Joan Osborne and the plan was for them all to sing 'Imagine' at the end of the concert. They had a choir that was going to sing with them." He then mentions, "The pianist who was supposed to play with them on stage didn't show up. I had never played the song before so I figured it out and worked with the choir a bit and then at the end of the show, I was on stage playing with Wyclef Jean and all those other artists. It was just this sort of quintessential New York experience. There I was playing in Webster Hall with these famous musicians when two days before I had been working as an administrative assistant for the Harvard University School of Public Health."
The book has a number of accounts like this about how the Lennon Bus has a way of showing ordinary people that they can make music alongside those who are famous for making music. Garvey devotes a lot of the book to the recording studio in the back room of the bus and the video workstation set up in the front conveying that the Lennon Bus holds songwriting workshops when the engineers are not recording music with students or one of the artists are not using it as a rehearsal studio. These are the chapters that are the heart of the book learning about the technology which gives people the tools to compose songs. For instance, a Roland Fantom X6 keyboard, a Brian Moore iguitar, or the Roland V-drums can be hooked up to a Mac computer and with the use of software packages like Pro Logic, Pro Tools, or Garageband, you can compose a melody with funky beats, orchestral tones, and blues-rock overtones or anything you like.
The book comes with a DVD/CD Rom which is a visual accompaniment to the book. On the disc former staff engineer, Rob Healy (2003-2005) instructs a group of students, "We can make it sound like whatever you want." Each student is provided with a CD and DVD copy of the song they recorded and the music video which the engineers made of them performing their song.
This reinforces Garvey's quote from Yoko Ono when she calls the Lennon Bus a "quiet revolution." The Lennon Bus allows people to make music in a home studio environment and to produce melodies that they want. The music videos filmed and edited by the Lennon Bus engineers document the work which goes into the recordings. Lennon Bus engineer, Hermino Quiroz (2001-2003) examines, "When we just had audio, it was hard to show what we actually did on the bus. Videos are very good at conveying that and I thought it was natural with the technology at that point."
Something which Garvey did not bring up but staff engineer Healy did on the Lennon Bus tour is that the people who record songs on the bus own all copyrights to their material, so if they make money from their recording or video tape on the bus, the Lennon Bus does not collect royalties or compensation for it. The staff engineers even post the videos made on the bus each day on its website so anyone visiting the site can see them. Although those recordings where music students collaborate with signed artists does affect clearance, because the students share copyrights with the artists.
Garvey demonstrates how these collaborations are good for the artists as well as for the students when he transcribes several interviews conducted on the bus with Pat Metheny, John Legend, Al Jarreau, Yolanda King, Macy Gray, Joan Osborne, and many others.
A dishevel-haired Pat Metheny cheers, "If you learn about just the basics of music, it helps you organize your world."
Al Jarreau resonates, "This is a new revolutionàMusic is the fountain of youth."
Yolanda King reaffirms, "Young people need to get it and get it youngàWe're all a part of this incredible human family."
Musicians from India who called themselves Folk Arts Rajasthan portray about music, "It's like a chainàa chain connecting you with nature and God."
And Joan Osborne recounts, "It used to be you had to book a big-time recording studio if you wanted anything to sound decent. And now, it's so much easier, you can make a record in your living room if you want to. The thing that I like about the bus is that it allows people to get their hands on these tools and just go for it."
What Garvey lacks in his book are quotes from the students about how it felt recording alongside these famous artists, although the DVD/CD Rom that comes with the book offers a snapshot of how these music students felt working on the Lennon Bus. It provides select music videos made by the staff engineers for the students. The disc is divided into sections that includes "Student Videos," "Artists And Students," contest winners from JLSC's "HS Battle of the Bands," "Austin Apple Store" winners, "Soncibids.com" winners, "Oneness Students" winners, "Warped Tour" videos taken for the Lennon Bus series The Day In The Life posted at Purevolume.com, and other sections which show the making of the Lennon Bus and the joy it brings to artists in the making.
The most important aspect about the Lennon Bus which Garvey impresses on the reader is that the Lennon Bus has been involved in showing people how to make music in the past and continues to be a part of helping them to make music in the future.
Former staff engineer Healy expresses about the vibe of the bus perfectly when Garvey records him saying, "I don't know what it is, but the Lennon Bus attracts the right people, the right people to live with and the right people to work with."
Garvey makes the Lennon Bus look like an honorable project because the staff members for the bus give it that creditability and honor. I found the book very informative and good at explaining what is the purpose of the powder blue bus with puffy white clouds and Lennon's self-portrait on it have to do with people and music.