A first step

by: JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer

Hanson is making music to make a better world

The members of Hanson are asking you to take the first step toward making a better world. In fact, they’ll take that first step with you.

“Nobody likes to take that first step, nobody likes to be a loner,” Isaac Hanson said.

That’s why, at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, long before the doors open at 7 p.m. for their homecoming concert, Zac, Taylor and Isaac will meet fans at Cain’s Ballroom’s front doors to make a one-mile trek to raise awareness about poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

“The walk isn’t primarily to raise funds,” Isaac added in a recent telephone interview from the road just outside New York City.

The walk is to help spur personal action for everyone, Hanson fan or not.

Often, it’s the first step toward change that’s the hardest one to make. Which is why they’re doing it, he said.

“Everybody wants to be part of a crowd they’re comfortable in, and go together. It’s an interesting human psychology that happens with things like that.”

Even something simple, like walking without shoes, can teach a lot, he said.

“We often do that, too,” which gives the Hanson brothers an opportunity to share stories about what they learned about the poverty-stricken country of South Africa, he said.

“We encourage others to do it, too,” he said.

“We’re talking about very urban areas, rough sidewalks, with the potential of stepping on glass. We say, ‘You know what, guys? This seems pretty risky, but you’ll be fine.’ ”

The point is, he wants people to think about others who never have shoes, “and who really need them,” he said. “They need them more than we do. . . . In Ethiopia, stepping on a rock could kill you.”

So after the walk, participants will be encouraged to take yet another step — to buy a pair of TOMS shoes.

As part of “The Walk” tour, the company is donating a pair of shoes to Africans in need for every pair purchased, he said.

“In places like Ethiopia, shoes are actually a life-saving thing, because there are bacteria that slowly eat away at people’s skin,” he said.

With shoes at a young enough age, an immunity to the bacteria can slowly develop. Without the immunity, skin will become sore and feet can swell to elephantine proportions with boils and sores, he said.

People inflicted with the infection become social outcasts because they are no longer productive, he said.

They may even die.

“How easy is it to help?” he asked. “Just buy one pair of shoes for yourself. It’s that simple. . . .

“This is not going to change the world, literally, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s change.”

“You know . . . It’s been really fun for the fans, really inspiring. They say, ‘We’re surprised that you’d get out and walk with people, that it’s so spontaneous,’ ” he said.

Maturing goals

Even trying to imagine the Hanson boys as squeakyvoiced, prepubescent boppers is impossible, especially while listening to eldest Isaac (now 26) explain the horror of countless children dying from poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Those are topics they’re passionate about. They learned all about the plight of that continent’s poor in a lifechanging trek last year.

And with maturity — and marriage, as Taylor, Isaac and Zac are all now wed, two with children — has come a profound awakening of social consciousness.

Which is why the band’s tour “The Walk,” named after its recent CD release, is all about changing the world, one step at a time.

“The tour is going really well,” Isaac said. “It has its very tiring moments, that’s for sure.”

Part of the new pressure comes with the fact that today’s tour is even more of a family affair, Isaac said.

“My wife and kid and Taylor’s wife and kids and Zac’s wife are on the road with us,” he said.

“Not all the time, but when we’re in the U.S., they’re usually with us. . . . We actually see each other more often when the band is on the road than when working at home,” he laughed.

It’s even changed the way they travel.

“Well, one thing’s for sure, you can’t fit everybody on one bus,” he laughed.

“I wake up a lot more in the middle of the night, getting stuff for the baby or helping out. And you know, you always know who you’re hanging out with after the show,” he laughed again.

Talk the talk

With the release of the album’s first single, “Great Divide,” the Hanson clan’s made another commitment to another of Africa’s plights — HIV and AIDS.

All proceeds from the sale of the single go to the HIV/AIDS hospital they visited while in South Africa, Isaac said.

And what they learned about HIV and AIDS was shocking, he said.

“It’s a very different virus in the U.S. than it is in Africa because of the effect that it’s having on its society,” said Isaac.

“AIDS is killing more people than any world war. It’s wiping out an entire continent,” he said solemnly.

“If we don’t take action, it could get a lot worse than we ever imagined,” he added.

“Poverty and AIDS go handin-hand. It’s quite shocking.”

In hospitals across Africa, HIV and AIDS infection rate from mothers to newborns is 40 percent.

At the hospital they visited, that rate has been reduced to 2 percent — with the help of simple intervention therapies available to mothers a month or more before their child is born, he said.

“So instead of 40 percent of children getting HIV and AIDS just by being born, only two out of 100 kids get it,” he said.

“That’s profound. The impact that could have on the continent is huge.”

Recently, the band gave $25,000 to the hospital from money raised from the single.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but that’s the beginning, and we’re very happy with that,” he said. “The dollar goes a long way in South Africa.”

He made a plea for fans to avoid pirating the song, too.

“We’ve seen that, and we’re hoping that people will go ahead and buy it,” he said. “The money’s certainly not lining our pockets.”

Indeed, their music — and their own example — is building a framework for the collective conscience of a new generation.

“With the Internet, with instant access to anywhere in the world, our generation can do anything,” Isaac said. “We just need to take that first step.”