At a time when some entertainers are mocked for taking political stances, Tom Jackson continues to unabashedly advocate for an end to hunger and the need for peace.
Jackson, who started the Huron Carole project in 1987 to raise money for Canadian food banks, has not doubted for the last 27 years that he — and we — can make a difference. Everyone needs to take a stand, as individuals and as a society, said the singer and actor.
“If (anyone) is thinking for a second that music can’t make a change, let me say that this project has raised more than $200 million in cash and food services,” added Jackson, whose next benefit concert for the local food bank will be on Thursday, Dec. 4, at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.
Despite Jackson’s views, many Canadians (unlike Czechs, who elect their poets) feel artists and musicians should stick to what they know, instead of tackling issues outside their sphere. This is something Neil Young learned after incurring public wrath over his opposition to the oilsands.
Jackson believes those who disagree with Young have the right to air their opinions — just as Young has the right to speak out about the things he feels passionately about.
“It’s part of our freedoms that people fought for,” said the singer, who has recently been advocating for peace.
His new single I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, from his upcoming album Ballads Not Bullets, states “I’m not alone in believing that this ain’t working anymore. And I’m not saying, I’m just saying we can put an end to war.”
“It’s a call to consciousness, not so much a call to action,” said Jackson.
Anyone who want to take action can go to the website balladsnotbullets.com to post a statement for peace as well as a selfie. Visitors to the website can also pay to download Jackson’s song I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross — a charity that helps war refugees.
He sees this push for pacifism as no different than his advocacy for food banks — it’s all needed to achieve a healthy society. “There are many messages of wellness, from peace to the environment to (stopping) the exploitation of women. … It’s bigger than one statement.”
Jackson believes everyone has a “gift” that can be used to help other people. As singer and actor, he believes his gift is his voice.
“You’ve got to use it strongly, use it proudly. We’re all given a song and we’ve got the right to sing that song and inspire others.”
In the mid 1980s, Jackson was addicted to drugs and living in somebody’s crawl space.
He remembers passing another homeless man lying on the sidewalk, seemingly in need of help. Even though other people walked by the man, Jackson decided to ask him whether he was OK. “I think maybe he had a stroke. He couldn’t talk,” recalled Jackson, who mostly remembers his distressed eyes.
He went to a nearby business and called an ambulance.
“Somewhere along the way, the Creator sent me an angel — someone who was worse off than I was. I decided to help the guy, but I didn’t save his life as much as he saved mine.”
This experience led to Jackson getting off drugs and off the street. It was recounted in a new National Film Board documentary short also called Ballads over Bullets. Jackson, whose rehabilitation included volunteering at the Toronto food bank, said the title refers to the choice he made during his roughest years.
When people come to the Huron Carole benefit in Red Deer, they will hear Christmas carols as well as ballads performed. Jackson will be joined by musicians Don Amero, Shannon Gaye, Beverley Mahood, and sisters Carly and Britt McKillip from the band One More Girl.
The first act of the concert will be a musical recalling the history of the Huron Carole, followed by a special concert in the second act. All proceeds will stay in the community and help local food banks.
Although Jackson is optimistic when assessing the capacity of individuals to make a difference, he doesn’t think Canada will ever get past the need for food banks. “I don’t suppose we will ever close the gap between the haves and the have-nots — we may narrow it — we can improve the quality of life for those who are less fortunate. But history tells us there’s always going to be that gap.”
Central Albertans who reach a certain level of success in this world shouldn’t forget they wouldn’t have achieved this without somebody’s help along the way, he added.
“Close your eyes for 30 seconds and take (account) of your life. When you open your eyes again, do something for somebody else. It will change your life. You will never be the same.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are $53.15 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.