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The Power of One: How Bono is Changing the World

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

When I was a kid, I felt deep down that anyone--absolutely anyone--had the ability to change the world. I believed in the power of one, and the power of community. And though I remained socially active throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, my idealism fell away about the time of the new millennium. It was replaced by a growing fear that things might not change after all. My heart became cynical.

But two weeks ago, I had my faith restored in human potential. It wasn't led by a Democrat or Republican or a spiritual guru preaching on high. In fact, the inspiration for the possibility of change was brought to me by a rock star. I couldn't be more surprised.

U2 has had a long and evolving career in this country. They started playing out on college campuses in the 80s and built a solid and loyal following singing songs about love, politics and war. I saw the band perform back then and wasn't disappointed. But I was wholly unprepared for just how amazing they would become.

I recently saw Bono perform with his band in Montreal. He's upped the ante to an unprecedented level. The show was exhilarating, emotional and, at its core, deeply provocative. For two hours non-stop Bono engaged the audience. He challenged them to become better citizens of the world. He dared them to make a difference in their own communities. He implored them to focus on helping others. And he outlined the United Nations Human Bill of Rights, fitting for a member of any country, regardless of political affiliation, gender or age. Bono used the very platform of his celebrity, connecting with the audience, awakening the consciousness of the individual and prodding them to look inside to issues easily pushed aside.

I can't imagine that any of the 20,000 ticket-holders left without considering his own place in the world.

Since music is the cultural glue that binds us together, what Bono and U2 are doing plays a very important role in leadership.

Unlike most singer-songwriters, the U2 front-man is not just singing to millions of fans every night. When he's not performing to stadium sold-out shows, he's visiting political leaders, heads of state and economic advisors, encouraging them to look at the bigger picture for the greater good.

Most popular music mildly imposes itself, saying, "I hope you like what I represent." A plethora of political politeness has taken courage and determination right out of poetry and music, leaving our cultural landscape overgrown with eunuchs and tunesmiths. Our desire to not offend has taken the lifeblood out of music and with it all hope.

What Bono and U2 are doing is extraordinary. This kind of leadership is not often expressed in music. It's a completely gratifying experience to watch the audiences walk away from the concert, knowing that so many seeds have been planted. Standing up is really what rock and roll is really all about.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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