- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2015

Roger Waters lost his father in World War II when he was all of 4 months old; his grandfather likewise died in the First World War before he was born.

But the former Pink Floyd bassist turned the pain of familial loss into a cause to help those in the veterans community cope with similar challenges.

“Ever since I can remember, I experienced the loss of a loved one,” Mr. Waters told The Washington Times. “And so I’ve always been open to the idea of maybe getting involved in some way.”

Mr. Waters will be part of a special Music Heals concert Friday at the District’s DAR Constitution Hall. Benefits will go to MusiCorps, whose aim is to help heal the invisible wounds of battle with sounds of rock ‘n’ roll.

MusiCorps founder Arthur Bloom said his goal has always been to have the best musicians — in Washington and around the world — work with America’s heroes to perhaps breach the barriers that combat creates. Mr. Bloom recalls a particularly troubled veteran who was not responding to treatment upon returning from overseas.

“He wasn’t talking to us, he wasn’t making eye contact, he was very badly injured,” Mr. Bloom said.

But one day, the veteran picked up a guitar and “never put it down.” He took it with him to physical therapy and played 15 hours a day.

“That was the moment. He started to get really good, and he started to come alive again. He started to reconnect with the world,” Mr. Bloom said.

Friday’s concert will feature a band of military veterans fronted by Mr. Waters, Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan and Tom Morello, lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

“I’ve long been a supporter of veterans and their rights, and visited Walter Reed Hospital on my own,” said Mr. Morello, who lives in Los Angeles. “And to be able to play for and with a band of disabled veterans is something I’m happy to fly 3,000 miles to do.”

Mr. Morello led the band Thursday in a rehearsal of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Mr. Morello has played the tune alongside Mr. Springsteen on multiple occasions, but has effectively made the song his own. Friday’s performance will feature Jake Clemons, nephew of Mr. Springsteen’s late longtime sax player Clarence Clemons.

“It’s a song that resonates greatly with me [as] it’s a social justice ghost story about those who have fallen, who have fought for justice,” Mr. Morello said. “I thought that it was appropriate.”

Mr. Morello, whose uncle fought in World War II in the Pacific theater, said the integration of professional musicians with military veterans provides for a unique experience.

“These guys sound great, they play great. That band really holds their own. The talent there is fantastic,” he said. “It’s an honor to play with them.”

Guitarist G.E. Smith also will be onstage with Mr. Waters and Mr. Morello. Mr. Smith has played professionally for decades and is perhaps best known as the leader of the “Saturday Night Live” band from 1985 to 1995.

“We live near each other on Long Island. Our wives knew each other,” Mr. Smith said of his introduction to Mr. Waters, who soon recruited him to play on the “The Wall Live” tour from 2010 to 2013. “It was just a lucky thing for me to get in there.”

In what is likely to be the most inspiring moment of Friday’s show, the rock legends will back up Marine Cpl. Timothy Donley, who lost both of his legs in combat and has limited use of his right arm. Mr. Donley will take center stage to sing, with the support of the pros and other wounded veterans.

“When I came back [from service], I had a good support system, I had people watching out for me and trying to make sure I’m getting back to a good place,” Mr. Donley said. “But a lot of guys don’t have this, and they come back and they’re so divorced from their own emotions from all the things they’ve seen and all they’ve seen happen to their friends. And so to come back and to try and find a way to reconnect with your emotions, that’s what this program does that a lot of kinds of therapy and a lot of other kinds of rehabilitative programs don’t have.”

“It’s not a political program,” Mr. Waters said. “We never talk about war or politics ever. What we talk about is music and friendship and connection and love. And what Tim’s been talking about — about being able to attach to your emotions to face up to the problems you have and to move on. It’s a hugely positive thing.”

Mr. Morello said music’s redemptive quality has been evident to him through this program, as music helped him exorcize some of the torments that haunted him as a young man.

“The reason I practiced eight hours a day as a kid was not because I wanted to get better; it’s because I had demons,” he said. “I wanted to focus on something that I did have control over, which was a piece of wood with six strings. I could feel a fulfillment that I couldn’t feel in other areas, and that’s what I feel music does beautifully.”

Mr. Donley said with a smile: “This program reconnects guys with their own emotions.”

One of those, no doubt, will be the ecstatic reception of a grateful audience.

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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