Many American men have entered Afghanistan with a weapon. Lanny Cordola entered with a guitar.
A self-described “studio guy,” Lanny had several of his own bands and also played with Slash, Ransom, the Beach Boys and even Nancy Sinatra, Cordola eventually grew disenchanted with the business, and the striving for success at the cost of making music that moved people.
Nine years ago, when he was in his early 50s, Lanny was playing with some musicians in Pakistan when he read about the horrific killing of two Afghan sisters by a suicide bomber. The girls were just 15 and 11, members of a skateboarding program, one of the green shoots of freedom that had popped up after the Taliban was driven from power in 2001-02.
“I just felt that I had to go there,” Lanny says.
Two years later, with his long brown hair flowing out from his cap, he did. He went to Kabul, seeking out the family of those two murdered girls. There he met Marsul, their younger sister, who was 9 years old and selling trinkets in the street.
Seeing his guitar, Marsul asked him, “Are you going to be our teacher?”
On such questions can a life change.
The power of music
He started with three girls in a room. Within a month, he had 40 kids, mostly preteen and early teens. They all wanted to play the guitar and sing.
“They awoke my soul,” Cordola says. “I said to myself ‘My God, I have an opportunity to be a voice for them.’ ”
He formed a semicircle that just kept growing and growing. Eventually, he limited it to girls only, because, quite frankly, “boys there didn’t have to worry about being married off at 12 or 13 years old like the girls did.’’
Wanting to be respectful, Cordola chose songs that had moral values and positive messages. The first one was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” which opens with the lyrics:
Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing,
cause every little thing’s
gonna be all right
Of course, in Afghanistan, saying “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing” is like telling a tree it needn’t fret over an approaching fire. Even with the government propped up by Western powers, Afghanistan remained a dangerous nation where the Taliban was reconstructing, biding its time, gaining influence in one province after another. It remained one of the worst places in the world for children, and for female children especially. One of Lanny’s early rehearsal spaces was ravaged by an explosion. The group had to move.
“In retrospect, the girls were always in grave danger,” Lanny says. “And me, in my naivete, I thought (we’d be all right) because all the songs that we do, these are really Muslim ethics.”
Lanny chose songs like “Love and Mercy” by Brian Wilson and “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band.
“I mean, ‘Feed the babies, that don’t have enough to eat, shoe the children, with no shoes on their feet’, these are good ideals,” he laments. “We weren’t doing Britney Spears songs.”
Nevertheless, threats were always looming. Even though his group, which he named The Miraculous Love Kids, had grown into a 501(c)(3) charity, had performed for several dignitaries, and had successfully recruited artists like Wilson, Sammy Hagar, Blake Shelton and others to record, long distance with them — their videos online are an inspiration to watch — Lanny kept a quiet promise in his back pocket.
“The day I become a danger to these girls is the day I have to leave.”
That day has come.
‘I have no trust for them’
Lanny speaks to me from Pakistan, where “through some higher power” he had gone to renew his visa just before Afghanistan fell last week like a house of cards to the Taliban, following President Joe Biden’s unwavering decision to withdraw U.S. forces despite warnings that Kabul could quickly tumble.
Now, Cordola is separated from his girls with no way back in. He worries for their welfare. And he has no illusions about the Taliban’s true intentions.
“The Taliban guys are all saying, ‘Oh, yeah, everything’s cool, peace and love, blah blah blah,’ ” he says. “These are freaking war criminals of the highest level. They have raped, murdered and committed mayhem since they were formed. … I have no trust for them.”
He says he has gotten phone calls through to his students, and “they all say to me ‘When are we going to be able to get out?’ They all want to leave.”
But leaving Afghanistan is now a thorny international issue. American citizens, and Afghans who have helped American forces, are still stranded there, hoping their connections and paperwork will eventually lead them to safe passage.
The Miraculous Love Kids have no such paperwork. Only the desire for freedom, which is rapidly closing on young Afghan girls like the tight cork of a wine bottle. There will not likely be any more rock ‘n’ roll songs played in that rehearsal space. The guitars themselves are in peril. Most importantly, the freedom to sing, express and explore that stirred joyously whenever the Miraculous Love Kids gathered is now in grave danger of being snuffed out altogether by a regime that has traditionally viewed teenage girls as the property of men and whatever those men want to do with them.
Lanny Cordola, who walked into the country with a guitar and found meaning and purpose in changing young lives, still insists that “Afghanistan is my home.” But what happens when your home is no longer recognizable and your harmonious little corner of it is now miserably out of tune?
“Love and Mercy” was the first song the girls and Lanny ever recorded. They could use a dose of both right now.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.