When Columbine High School students Jonathan and Stephen Cohen wrote the
music to "Friend of Mine (Columbine)," they never considered it would be
a radio hit, let alone comfort tens of thousands of people in the wake of
one of this country's most incomprehensible tragedies.
It's done both.
"It's good to know that the song is helping people," said Jonathan Cohen,
17, who wrote the music with his brother, Stephen, 18. "And the words to
the song are so true -- that God's comfort is real, and it's good to be
reminded of that."
Since the Littleton, Colo., high-school shootings, which left 14 students
and a teacher dead, media reports and politicians have blamed the dark
music of groups such as Marilyn Manson, KMFDM and German rockers Rammstein
for contributing to the violence. But the tragedy also has spawned the
Cohen brothers' song, a composition that quickly became one of the most
requested on radio stations in nearby Denver.
The hopeful, religious folk-pop song "Friend of Mine (Columbine)"
(RealAudio excerpt) has sold 35,000 copies by telephone and through a
website. For a while it was getting played 70 times a week on Denver's
"The reaction to this song is huge," KALC music director Kevin Koske
said. "The best way to describe it is that nobody at this radio station
has ever seen a response to a song, or to an event for that matter, like
On the day of the shooting, Jonathan was in the Columbine High cafeteria,
where some of the carnage took place. The brothers and their sister,
Diana, all dodged bullets and shrapnel that day. They escaped unscathed
and didn't witness any bloodshed.
The brothers had written the music for the song about a week before the
April 20 massacre, in which two students allegedly went on a shooting
rampage before killing themselves.
The Cohens' pastor at the Living Way Fellowship in Littleton composed
the words the day of the shooting when the brothers -- who both dream of
becoming professional musicians -- decided to sing a song at a memorial
service for their slain classmates.
"We weren't sure what to do," Stephen said. "Andy Millar, our pastor,
asked if we wanted to do a song about Columbine. He wrote the lyrics in
about 45 minutes, and we've been performing it since."
"Friend of Mine (Columbine)" joins a long line of songs about tragedies,
including Elton John's mournful Princess Diana tribute "Candle in the
Wind 1997" and the Boomtown Rats' controversial 1980 new-wave hit
(RealAudio excerpt), which was based on a San Diego teenager who shot
11 people, killing two of them, in 1979.
The John song, with lyrics revised by his partner, Bernie Taupin, from
the original "Candle in the Wind," became the biggest-selling single of
all time. "I Don't Like Mondays" was banned by some radio stations.
As with "Candle in the Wind 1997," reaction to "Friend of Mine" has
brought people together. The brothers performed it, with Jonathan singing
and Stephen on guitar, at a memorial service attended by 70,000 people
and telecast around the world. The brothers also have played the song at
such events as a Colorado Rockies baseball game.
A melodic, acoustic tune featuring such hopeful lyrics as, "Can you still
hear raging guns/ Ending dreams of precious ones?/ In God's son, hope
will come/ His red stain will take our pain/ Columbine, friend of mine/
Peace will come to you in time/ Columbine, friend of mine."
"When I'm singing it, I try to think about what I'm singing and not let
emotion overcome the performance," Jonathan said.
The song "does bring out a lot of emotion," he said. "In that way, it's
more of a comfort. The healing process has been different for a lot of
people, and I know with us we've really been able to rely on God, and
that's really helped. We're getting through it."
The brothers, who said they're fans of such Christian pop acts as Jars
of Clay, dc Talk and the ska-influenced Five Iron Frenzy, recorded the
song at a Littleton studio, Prodigal Productions, with help from engineer
Joel Mayer and executive producer Jason Hickman. Both engineer and
producer played on the recording.
Prodigal is selling the single for $11.95 at www.friendofmine.org, with
all proceeds going to victims' families.
The studio is working on a distribution deal to make it more widely
available, Mayer said. "I've gotten calls from people and radio all over
the country interested in the song," he explained.
The Cohens said they have been in touch with families of the victims,
some of whom were their friends.
"We talked to Lauren Townsend's and Cassie Bernall's parents the other
day," Stephen said, "and both of them say the song has really helped them.
And that's the only thing we really want.
"We didn't expect this to gain media play or to just blow up like it has.
But just as long as the focus that we had when we initially did this
song is there, we can take all of the attention, just as long as it's
Koske said the song continues to inspire a shattered community to come
"It's really unfortunate that it takes something like this to pull a
community together, but this has been a total community effort," said
Koske, whose station is now playing the song four times a day.
"We're hooking up with Columbine students to do an auction, and artists
like Natalie Merchant and Third Eye Blind have donated items for that,"
he added. "We're still getting calls from people who want to help."