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Sweet December Day

Leon Russell, Pearl Harbor, and Oahu

In 2016, I was scheduled to open up for Leon Russell at the Tower Theater in Bend, Oregon in May. When a tour bus broke down, that show was postponed to December 7. When I realized this was the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I felt compelled to write a song to commemorate this auspicious day, a "day that will live forever in infamy." Only since it happened 28 years before I was born, I knew next to nothing about it.

I went to the local library and checked out several books, including Pearl Harbor Ghosts by Thurston Clarke. I watched documentaries. I learned and absorbed much about not only Pearl Harbor Day, but also about Hawaii, and Oahu, what a paradise it was, and what life was like in the 1940s. Clarke's book, in particular, really took me to a different place beyond space and time.

I imagined being there in the days before, feelings of joy and festivity, as ships would come and depart, flowers blooming, and the sheer beauty of the island. I also felt the horror and the apparent shock of that day, the complete surprise at the events that transpired. (If anyone ever says we are "erasing history" they are dead wrong—all you have to do is go to your local library). Quite the duality...

Having built a deep spiritual and emotional connection with Pearl Harbor, and Oahu, I wrote the song "Sweet December Day." It was named as such to honor the divine beauty of the island, the people, the culture, that can never be destroyed. It's important, even in the midst of tragedy, to remember and acknowledge that beauty. Love will ultimately triumph over evil.

As it would turn out, I would never have the opportunity to open for Leon in Bend. Over the summer, he suffered a heart attack. And on November 13, he passed away. I was devastated at the loss of yet another music legend. I had been looking forward to not just opening the show, but connecting with him on a personal level. HIs death was a major loss to the world, and incredibly sad.

But despite that tragedy, now that the concert was canceled, I felt an overwhelming feeling that I needed to go to the ceremony on Oahu in person, to honor the victims, veterans, and survivors of Pearl Harbor, and to honor the island itself with my presence. Because, when I write songs, it's not just putting words on paper, and then going about my life and ignoring them. I write them because I really mean them, and I really care about what happened to those people. I had just been laid off in August, and practically, it didn't make sense to go to Hawaii at that time...but I felt a deep calling that I had to answer.

So I went to Oahu, and attended the 75th anniversary ceremony. I took a boat that same day, and stood on the Arizona Memorial. I felt the presence of the men entombed in that ship, buried in the water below.

I found several opportunities to perform "Sweet December Day" and other music, including at a venue where Leon Russell had performed once. I spent a week on Oahu, and really connected with the natural beauty and spirit of the island.

Regardless of whatever adversity I face in this world, I will always choose love. And music is the language of love. Through music and art, we can spread love, healing, hope, and forgiveness, transforming the fear into empathy and compassion.

Sweet December Day ©2016 Victor Johnson

Would you look out your window and see paradise

Feel the wind on a sweet December day

Stillness in the sky

The breeze floating by

People going on their way

Lovely mountains beautiful eyes

Gentle showers leave rainbows dancing in the blue

A crescendo of waves where the dolphins play

All the flowers are in bloom

No sadness, no gloom

So enchanting today

Morning stars they’re shining through


Chorus: Fire falling from above

Sirens shatter the still

Blackness louder than the planes

Sent to burn and to kill

The water rushing in

Battleships they’re sinking below

No one dreamed this could be 

How did nobody see

How did nobody know


Wake up to the smell of fresh chrysanthemums

Greet the sun laughing so lightly now

Volcano weathered folds

Pele hot lava holds

Red curls bouncing on her brow

A lullaby she hums

Crystal silence wafting through the light of dawn

Soft memories bear love from the night before

Faces all aglow

Time moves oh so slow

I walk out my door

The sunrise seems painted on

Chorus

Break

Chorus

Would you look out your window and see paradise

Feel the wind on a sweet December day

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Sweet December Day
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