"There are those who look at things the way they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’" - Robert F. Kennedy
Once upon a time, such idealistic sentiments flourished. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, leaders from various walks of life served as catalysts for positive change in a turbulent world. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of making it to the mountaintop; Bob Marley encouraged people to get up and stand up for their rights; and John Lennon imagined a world at peace.
During that time, Lennon served as a sort of spokesperson for a better world, championing causes, sometimes blindly, in his eagerness to make a difference. And, while his turbulent, post-Beatles, life would hardly serve as an ideal model for Utopian living, his Amsterdam bed-ins with Yoko Ono and other antics created historic moments that have yet to be equaled. With Lennon’s murder in 1980, the love was lost and the charge to change the world through rock and roll was drowned out by punk and new wave movements.
Building off of all those influences, though, was a little Irish band with dreams of world domination. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t take long for U2 to reach the forefront of the rock scene. When the band’s idealistic lead singer, Bono, waved the white flag during a blustery concert at Red Rocks, Colorado, and the world took notice.
From there, Bono would go on to phone the President of the United States mid-concert during the ZOO-TV tour. That same tour also featured, during some performances, live broadcasts from citizens in war-torn Sarajevo.
Now, in a time when even the Hard Rock Café seems more concerned about saving the bottom line than saving the planet, a new generation of idealists has a chance to change the world.
Bono’s exploits have received a lot of coverage in the mainstream media of late. The March 4, 2002, issue of Time Magazine featured a cover story on the rock star asking, "Can Bono Save the World?" Nearly a year later, it can be said the man is certainly making some headway. His efforts to draw attention to the AIDS crisis in Africa have paid off, with President Bush acknowledging the crisis during his most recent State of the Union address.
Through the AIDS awareness campaign and crusading to have first world nations cancel third world debts, Bono has reached a rare status, one in which he wines and dines with the likes of President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, and even Oprah Winfrey.
Regardless of the rest of the band’s concerns about Bono’s "extra-curricular" activities, addresses for Greenpeace and Amnesty International consistently appear in the band’s liner notes and the band, as a unit, participated in a Greenpeace-sponsored protest of the Sellafield nuclear plant.
On several occasions Bono has commented that he finds inspiration in his children and they’ve made him more "militant" with his growing concern about being able to see them live in a safe world. But is Bono the only one filling his free time with activities seeking positive change?
It’s one thing to be controversial; the world is full of musicians making waves for all the wrong reasons. Eminem singing about his marital troubles and mother doesn’t do the world as a whole a lot of good. Other acts, like the one-hit wonder Chumbawamba, take things to the extreme with anarchist leanings. It’s a tricky act to juggle in a musical environment that shies aware from risk-taking, even of the artistic variety. Surely marketing surveys would not rank political activism as a key attraction when people go to buy new music. Internal controversy takes center stage, feasting on the scraps of gossip surrounding the rivalry between former Mouseketeers Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.
Nonetheless, while Bono’s certainly the most visibly active crusader/rock star today, he’s got some good company.
First of all, there’s Sir Bob Geldof, the man behind the Live Aid and Band Aid fundraising efforts of the 1980s. He has also crusaded on behalf of Drop the Debt, but he appears to be content to leave the frontman duties to Bono on that one. However, Geldof still has genocide and famine in Africa at the top of his concerns, with the latest developments featured on his official site, http://www.bobgeldof.info/. While Geldof has moved on from the Boomtown Rats, he’s recently released a new album and taken on a boycott of the Cricket World Cup for the England and Wales Cricket Board. The games are to be held in Zimbabwe, which is facing a famine crisis and political unrest.
Then there’s The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, whose "ministry of rock and roll" was re-ignited with the E Street Band’s reunion tour in 2000.
The Boss still has a lot on his mind, whether it be the disenfranchised as featured on his solo album The Ghost of Tom Joad, or the killing of Amadou Diallo, an innocent African immigrant, at the hands of New York City police in the song "American Skin (41 Shots)." On the latter, Springsteen sings, "You can get killed just for living in your American skin." The song, naturally, drew the ire of New York’s police, who attempted a boycott of his Madison Square Garden shows in 2000. Nonetheless, the song was played and was even featured during an HBO presentation of his New York stand.
Then there’s the post-September 11 world portrayed in The Rising, with which Springsteen has taken his source material of pain and anguish and questioning and crafted an incredible album. Most stunning is the song "Worlds Apart," which features Asif Ali Khan and background vocals of Islamic devotional music from a mystic sect of the Muslim religion. While perhaps not as openly active as Bono, The Boss does stand his ground both in the studio and on the stage. And he continues his efforts to revive Asbury Park and is not averse to performing for the right charities, including Amnesty International’s 1998 concert in Paris.
As for charity performances, one of the biggest surprises of recent times was The Rolling Stones’ free concert in Los Angeles on February 6, 2003, on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In an effort to raise awareness of the effects of global warning, Sir Mick and the gang staged their first free show in more than 30 years. And they had none other than Bill Clinton on hand to perform the introduction. This may not qualify as a long-term commitment to activism on behalf of the Stones, but the show did draw a fair amount of attention, both for the band and the cause. In tandem with their performance at Paul McCartney’s The Concert for New York City, it’s good to see they haven’t completely lost touch with the world around them. As for Sir Paul, he’s in the thick of it as well with his efforts to rid the world of millions of active landmines.
Other artists, like Moby and Sting, steadfastly go about making music and raising awareness for the causes that concern them, particularly preserving the world’s beauty, ranging from Walden Woods to the rain forests.
Of course, being visibly active might not suit every artist. Some, like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, prefer grassroots activities out of the spotlight instead of the overt hob knobbing with the politicians and world players.
And, in the wings, offering promise of good things to come, are performers like Nelly Furtado, who recently performed at a benefit for the David Suzuki Foundation, which seeks to preserve and conserve Earth’s natural resources.
Also one to watch is Citizen Cope (born Clarence Greenwood). The man performs with a rare intensity and focus that’s a sight to behold. In his song "Contact," he sings, "You’ve got them crooked politicians eating up the treasury and taking our cash to spend on the prisons while the youth they fast. Now I’m waiting on the day when we can all bring like Martin Luther King. This is why I sing. I want I some contact."
• Originally published at Interference.com on 03-09-2003 at 02:34 AM
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