Picture it: A hot summer day in Keokuk in 1997. If you had a trampoline or a swimming pool in your backyard, guess what? You had at least one new best friend. At age 11, I was ashamed to say that my backyard held neither of those attractions. So of course I was delighted when a friend invited me to her house, where I’m sure we raided the freezer for Popsicles before climbing on her trampoline to burn off some pre-pubescent energy.
There are moments in our lives that define who we are, that shape us, for better or worse. I think it is safe to say that that afternoon was a turning point in my young life.
Like all the other Tri-State Area “cool kids” – or in my case, “occasionally-attempted-to-be-cool-but-never-succeeded-at-it-kids” – my radio station of choice was Y-101, which we listened to that afternoon at full-blast.
A recently-released song came on, which I would best describe today as cute and poppy but far more profound that most will ever realize or at least admit. Those of you old enough and/or hip enough to remember might already know that I’m referring to “Mmmbop,” a song written and recorded by three young brothers from Tulsa, Okla., known as Hanson. It was a summer hit that was quickly dismissed by music lovers with, shall we say, more “polished” tastes.
In the years to follow, Hanson’s fan base narrowed as their refusal to be molded into “just another boy band” alienated them from their record label and Top 40 radio.
Guess who was still hanging around the Hanson fan sites and looking for signs of Isaac, Taylor and Zac in every music magazine? And guess who got teased mercilessly throughout junior high and high school for being a Hanson fan?
After 13 years as a fan and five shows (show No. 6 and my first time actually meeting the guys will be this summer, God willing), I’m proud to say I’ve stuck it out with my favorite band. In that time I’ve learned that most people will never give Hanson credit for being legitimate musicians, gutsy entrepreneurs and most admirably – selfless humanitarians. But I can guarantee that if I were to play some of Hanson’s newer tunes for the unitiated listener, he or she would never guess that this was the same band that brought us “Mmmbop.”
Hanson managed to break away from Island Def Jam Records while recording their third studio album, “Underneath,” in 2003. They formed an independent label, 3CG (which stands for Three Car Garage) Records and have since released “Underneath” in 2004 and “The Walk” in 2007.
The brothers traveled to South Africa in 2006 and were deeply moved by the impact of HIV/AIDS not only in that country but also throughout Africa. That trip inspired them to write “Great Divide,” a single that they released first on iTunes and later on “The Walk.” Proceeds from purchases of the song went to HIV/AIDS research.
Hanson also teamed up with TOMS Shoes, a non-profit organization founded by Blake Mycoskie. TOMS’ motto is “one for one”: for every pair of slip-on shoes purchased from the organization, another pair of shoes is given to a child in a third-world country. Starting with their first tour to promote “The Walk” in fall 2007, Hanson has hosted a mile-long, barefoot walk before each of their shows to raise awareness about worldwide poverty. College campuses and communities nationwide also have started hosting their own walks.
Even if you listen to Hanson’s new music and still insist that they’re just not your cup of tea, be honest about one thing: These guys have big hearts.
Right now Hanson is gearing up for the release of their fifth studio album, “Shout It Out” — due in stores June 8. Their summer tour is scheduled to kick off July 21.
They will be doing a series of concerts at Gramercy Theatre in New York City later this month. For the avid Hanson fan (who has lots of money and about a week’s worth of vacation time), the “5 of 5” series is sure to be a treat. The first show will be a performance of Hanson’s first album, “Middle of Nowhere,” followed by “This Time Around” the next night, and so on. The final show will be a premiere performance of “Shout It Out.”
I was ecstatic Monday when I went home for lunch. As promised, the first single off the album, “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin,’” had been released as a streaming download on AOL’s entertainment Web site, PopEater. The ‘60s-soul-inspired tune, which is said to set the mood for the rest of the album, will be released on iTunes April 27.
For more information, visit www.hanson.net.