Toxic Goo Guns: Shooting for Change

There is a long-standing assumption that people in the music industry live a hedonistic, self-absorbed, drug-laced, “rock n roll” lifestyle. And we love them for it – this is where our rock and roll dreams come from, where the lure of sex, drugs and rock and roll brings out the guitar smashing rock god in all of us. We love the music, we yearn for the lifestyle and we dream of the bright lights. Though we will never admit it, this is a part of the reason why so many of us (or really all of us) secretly want to be rock stars. We want the “party hard,” “love-em and leave-em,” no consequences way of life that so many musicians seems to live.

But by focusing solely on the high life, we neglect those who use their power to create something more than just a number 1 single. There is a universe of musicians who dedicate their spare time and efforts to making this world a better place.   So, every month we are going to highlight these industry heroes who use their rock star power for good.

As Peter Parker’s uncle Ben once said (yes, I know I am quoting a fictional character; we can discuss that another time), “with great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben’s words could be debated until we’re blue in the face, but I believe he was talking about understanding when you have power, and more importantly knowing how and where to use it.  All people have the power to create a change in the world, but so many of us neglect to use it. So it takes extraordinary people to realize their own ability and to do something with their power. But, going back to Uncle Ben’s quote, what makes someone “responsible” for helping others?

What this really comes down to is using our voices. Every person has a “cause” they believe in, a certain idea or project they want to see come to fruition. Some causes are well know and global, others are on a smaller scale, but that does not make them unimportant or mean that they should not have a voice. Just the opposite, if lending a voice can shine a light on a situation that needs attention, then it is our responsibility as human beings in this world to do so. Every cause needs representatives.  According to Anna Bulbrook of The Airborne Toxic Event, “it’s a social responsibility.  If you have the power to help someone, you should.”

This column will be used to showcase musicians who are using their voices to create a change. We are simply honoring artists who lend their name and time to bring light and help to subjects that tugs at their heartstrings. On that note, I want to include a small disclaimer. The actions discussed in this column do not represent the views of this magazine (though of course we support all people who create social change). If the causes we highlight speak to you, please get involved and lend your own voice. If they do not, find a cause that does resonate with you. We don’t mind at all.

This month we give kudos to three bands that have used different methods to encourage their fans to make a difference. The actions of The Airborne Toxic Event, Guns N’ Roses and the Goo Goo Dolls, have an impact on human rights, rebuilding a destroyed nation and hunger, respectively.

In June of last year, The Airborne Toxic Event held a benefit concert to raise awareness of human rights violations that resulted in the death of Neda Agha-Soltan.  Neda’s unnecessary death was captured on video and seen by millions across the globe.  Lead singer Mikel Jollett was one of those who clicked on the YouTube clip, unaware that his world was about to be changed forever. The emotional impact of that single video inspired Jollett to recruit his fellow band members to stand beside him and call for a change.

The five members pledged to write a song and perform a benefit concert to raise awareness about this incident and other ongoing human rights violations, but this simple task turned into an uphill battle that they refused to give up.  Jollett contacted several human rights organizations and offered the band’s assistance.  Amnesty International was the first to return the singer’s messages with a pledge to help the band in any way possible. After writing and recording their single NEDA, the band organized a private dinner, silent auction, and concert with fans to raise money and, more important, awareness of the situation.  Their efforts did not stop there, as they asked the audience to take what they had learned and spread the word.  With a little effort, an email campaign and website were born with fans all over the world starting to hear and speak out against human rights violations.

Guns N’ Roses are also calling upon their fans to rise up to make a difference.   The band has been involved in several charity projects to raise money to help rebuild Haiti, after the catastrophic earthquake all but destroyed the republic.  Tommy Stinson, currently the bassist for Guns N’ Roses and Soul Asylum, and formerly of The Replacements, even travelled (at his own expense) to witness the nation’s devastation firsthand.  Stinson was so moved by the plight of those suffering due to the earthquake that he took his video and pleas for help to the Internet.  In September, Stinson and his fellow Guns N’ Roses band mates joined many others in participating in a celebrity Twitter auction to help raise money for the area.  Auction participants could bid for the chance to have their name tweeted by the celebrity of their choice, among other things.  A feverish bidding war ensued, raising funds brought in by the band’s involvement.

Yet their good deeds do not stop there.  Stinson decided to take a step further, organizing another charity auction, putting his personal items on the bidding block.  Instruments from his past and present bands, as well as his infamous plaid suits, were made available for purchase to those willing to help.  Unsure of what to expect, but determined to aid the children of the nation (already designated the poorest country in the Americas before the tragedy struck) Stinson continues to be blown away by the fans generosity and support.  “We’re just going to try to do our best to raise some money to help in our way, help the kids the best we can,” Stinson said in a recent interview.  His fellow GNR members support these efforts by taking their voices to social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, to further encourage fans to open their hearts and their wallets for Haiti’s plight.  This auction is not the end either, as Stinson vows to recruit more industry friends to continue to keep Haiti in the eyes and minds of the world.

Our third spotlight this month shines on the Goo Goo Dolls who, along with their fans, raised over 9,000,000 meals for local food banks over the last 12 years.  Any diehard Goo Goo Dolls fan knows that there is a can drive at every concert.  The band has partnered with their street team members to set up collection stations throughout every venue they play.  In addition to the good feeling of helping out, the audience member who brings the most food will receive backstage passes to meet and take photos with the band.

When I spoke with bass guitarist, Robby Takac, about their efforts to eradicate hunger, you could hear the passion lighting up his voice.  He sounded like a proud father as he expressed his excitement and gratitude over the support for the fan can-drives.  “We have arrangements with local food bands to get food to folks who need it, usually before the sun comes up the next day.  It’s a really great system,” Robby explained.   America’s food banks are facing critically empty shelves and some are currently forced to send people elsewhere.  Drives like these help remind people that these problems still exist and that every little bit helps.  The Goo Goo Dolls have tapped into this situation and encourage their fans to help out, knowing that something as simple as bringing an extra can from your pantry will make a difference for a hungry family.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Guns N’ Roses, and The Goo Goo Dolls have each lent their name, time and passion to wonderful causes they believe in and, in return, have had an impact on making a positive change. There are so many other “angels of music” whose small or barely noticed actions have a great impact on helping those less fortunate and in dire need. We will spotlight both historic and future events and let you know how you too can help to make a difference.  It’s great to know that in between the shows, the tours, the interviews and the food riders (only brown M&Ms for us, thank you very much), many of your favorite musicians are putting their voices to a use that goes far beyond creating the songs we love.

About Jennifer Borun

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