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Phil Thompson plays "Final Ride Home" at the City Center atrium.

Phil Thompson glances at the video screen while performing "Final Ride Home" at the City Center atrium on August 16.

U grad composes tribute song

Goal for "Final Ride Home" is to raise $1 million for American Red Cross

By Rick Moore

August 16, 2007

Phil Thompson was very familiar with the Interstate 35W bridge. "I crossed [it] every day going to and from school," says Thompson, a spring graduate from the U's Carlson School of Management on the West Bank.

Two days after the bridge collapsed, Thompson made a trip toward the Mississippi River for a view of the scene, and that evening he set about to transform his raw emotions into a song. Less than two hours later, the acclaimed pianist had composed "Final Ride Home," a compelling tribute to the victims of the tragedy, their families, and volunteers--especially from the Red Cross--who offered their assistance after the disaster.

Thompson recorded the song the next day and moved quickly to make it accessible to the public. "Final Ride Home" can be downloaded for 99 cents through iTunes and CD Baby, and all proceeds will go to the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross. He's hoping to raise $1 million.

"I was really moved. I was inspired to do something, and writing music is something I can do, so I threw myself into this song," Thompson said between special noon-hour performances of "Final Ride Home" August 16 at the City Center atrium in downtown Minneapolis. "It just came out. The song reflects my emotions from the second day after it happened."

As for his lofty fundraising goal, Thompson knows how difficult it is to sell a million CDs, but figures a single song might be an easier task. "Anybody can download a song for 99 cents," he says. "That's where [the idea came] for a million dollars through a million songs."

The piece is marked by deep, somber tones and is offset intentionally at the end with what Thompson describes as some notes of hope. When heard with an accompanying video (available via Thompson's Web site or on YouTube) showing images of the bridge and the people involved, the song is even more poignant.

During the City Center performances, Thompson occasionally glanced toward a screen displaying the video, and the images that sparked his composition. "We wanted [to use] the best photos that told the whole story," he said, "and I wanted the song to tell the whole story."

As for his lofty fundraising goal, Thompson knows how difficult it is to sell a million CDs, but figures a single song might be an easier task. "Anybody can download a song for 99 cents," he says. "That's where [the idea came] for a million dollars through a million songs."

And in the digital age, where the buzz on music spreads at amazing speeds, anything is possible.

"I know a million [downloads] is ambitious," Thompson says, "but I think it's totally doable."