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"This Is It" Story - Submitted September 15, 1999
I am always looking for ways to inspire my students. I have always found the song "This Is It" to be particularly inspiring. On your greatest hits album, you write: "The lyric was inspired by my father when he found himself in a moment of a life or death decision. Thanks to 'This Is It' he chose life." There has to be an incredible inspiring story behind this.
My father was in the hospital facing yet another vascular surgery. In those days antereo-vascular disease was treated by taking out the large blood vessels turning them inside out, and putting them back in. Recovery was painful, and dad had had this done half a dozen times already.
This time, he was undergoing surgery due to a series of small strokes, and the prognosis was 50/50; either he'd survive or die during the operation. Dad was emotionally worn down by the strokes and years of related diseases, and his spirits were finally flagging. Dad had never been the kind of man to give up easily. An athlete all his life, he had approached his struggles with his body with the same winner's spirit he'd approached his baseball games, with determination and confidence. In this latest depression, he'd finally made up his mind he was going to die on the operating table.
At the same time as this drama was unfolding in our lives, Michael McDonald and I had been meeting regularly to write. Our favorite unfinished melody was the one that would later become "This Is It," but as yet we were still struggling with the lyrics. We'd tried twice to squeeze "boy/girl" lyrics into it, but they were always unsatisfying. What had us fooled were the 2 lines that had shown up with the initial melody.
there been times in my life / I've been wondering why
You think that maybe it's over / Only if you want it to be
We were assuming those lines were about lost love, but we would soon see that the song had another idea. One morning, as we visited my father in the hospital, his talk of dying finally got to me, and I exploded. "You've got some say over how this goes, ya know?" I demanded. "Your attitude will determine your survival." Dad fell silent, angry and embarrassed. I looked him in the eyes and said, "This is it, dad. Make a choice!" He had stopped speaking to me, and I was so frustrated I just stormed out of the room, already late for my writing appointment with Michael. When I arrived at Mike's home, my mind suddenly connected the dots and as I once again sang the lines, "you think that maybe it's over, only if you want it to be." I began to cry. "I've got it," I announced to Michael, "it's not a love song. It's a life song." I went on to tell him about my fight with my father and his fight for life. Suddenly all the previous lyric made sense and new additional lyrics literally came flooding out. When we hit the chorus I sang out "this is it" emphatically, for the first time. Michael looked at me in shock. "Are you sure?" he asked. "Positive," I said. And so it went.
That evening I rushed back to visit my father at the hospital with my first demo of "This Is It" in my hand. As I played it for him in his room, tears came to our eyes, we held each other and silently I knew he'd be alright. My father lived four more good years before suffering kidney disease created by lack of blood flow, and died in 1987.
Thanks for helping me tell my story, once and for all.