Tom Cochrane's highway has also been World Vision Canada's. Honouring both the Canadian singer and songwriter's 25-year humanitarian association with Christian charity organization World Vision Canada and the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, Mad Mad World, the charity threw Cochrane a tribute bash at the Fermenting Cellar in Toronto's Distillery District on Oct. 24.
There's a closer connection than many might realize: the biggest hit of Cochrane's formidable career, 1991’s "Life Is A Highway," was written following his first World Vision-sponsored trip to Africa.
"With the African experience, I came back and it was a different Tom, you know, because of the trauma," Cochrane explained in 25 Years On The Highway, a World Vision documentary that also had its premiere screening at the Fermenting Cellar during the party. "We saw a celebration. Most desperate people express this joy, this generosity. I came home and…how do you deal with it? I got up early that morning, 5 a.m. until 7 or 8 (a.m.): ‘Life Is A Highway,’ for the most part, was completed.
"Writing that song changed my career; it changed my life. As a songwriter, you can't live in a bell jar — you've got to draw from real experience. If you want to write, it enriches your soul. It also puts scars on your soul. Those scars heal. You're stronger for it. You're a different human being."
Since that first trip to Africa in 1989, Cochrane has joined World Vision for seven more, as well as three other trips, including a trek made to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon earlier this year.
According to its web site, "World Vision is a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization working to create lasting change in the lives of children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Inspired by our Christian values, World Vision is dedicated to working with the world's most vulnerable people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender."
In the film, former World Vision Canada president and CEO Dave Toycen speaks glowingly of some of Cochrane's attributes.
"He's got a compassionate heart; he's curious and brings his influence to the table and that's who Tom is," Toycen explains. "And he wants to understand how things work. He wants to understand why a situation is the way it is, and how, in fact, what we're proposing to do is going to make a difference."
The times that Tom Cochrane has made a difference as a public figure are countless: he's raised millions for numerous causes through various benefits, and perhaps more importantly, raised awareness through his participation in such causes as World Vision Canada, Make Poverty History, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, World Society for the Protection of Animals and others.
He's rallied fellow musicians for the 2005 Canada for Asia benefit in support of tsunami relief, played Canada's Live 8 concert, sang on the Young Artist for Haiti's "Waving Flag" fundraising single and entertained the troops in Afghanistan.
As a result, Cochrane has been recognized with The Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, the Order of Canada, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal for his charity efforts as well as his musical milestones, such as SOCAN’S National Achievement Award, induction into Canada's Walk of Fame and into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
And he certainly drew a lot of attention to World Vision with "Life Is A Highway," a celebratory anthem about life that has sold millions of copies in Canada (both by Cochrane and as covered by country band Rascal Flatts) and around the world, and with its corresponding album Mad Mad World, still one of the few albums by a domestic artist to sell 1 million copies in Canada (1.7 million according to Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffery Remedios) and five more million around the world.
At the event, it was Cochrane who praised the efforts of the World Vision Canada workers, volunteers and benefactors.
"It's you guys who do the heavy lifting," he said with his usual modesty.
Even while he was at the podium, Cochrane's fundraising continued: a portrait that was created by artist Claire Hall while the evening continued, and to which Cochrane affixed his signature to, sold for $7200 in auction at the end of the night.
He later capped the evening with an acoustic-four song performance that included "Life Is A Highway."
Perhaps the best tribute came from Lara Dewar, World Vision Canada's chief marketing and development officer, thanking Cochrane for "his time, the most valuable commodity to some of the world's darkest, most desperate places.
"We put together this short documentary as a tribute to him, the generosity that he has inspired in Canadians and the voice that he has loaned to some of the world's most desperate stories. I'm not sure if I've met very many people with a great capacity to love than Tom Cochrane."
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