Music Therapy 

As Gabrielle Giffords continues her recovery in Houston, rock 'n' roll helps her hometown heal

Ron Barber didn't need much convincing when he was invited to bring his family onstage with Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Alice Cooper and more than a dozen other musicians to sing "Teach Your Children" at the end of the Thursday, March 10, benefit concert at the Tucson Convention Center.

"There was no hesitation on my part," Barber says with a laugh. "That's one of my favorite songs, and it's the perfect song to end the evening with the message that we're trying to send out. To be singing it onstage with Crosby and Jackson and Nash and all the others? It was really cool."

"Teach Your Children" was the final song of a star-studded concert for Barber's Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which will support victims of Tucson's Jan. 8 massacre, as well as programs to discourage bullying in schools and to assist the mentally ill.

Barber put together the concert as he recovered from wounds he suffered in the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which left six dead and 13 wounded. Severe nerve damage has left him without feeling in his left leg below the knee, except when he feels pain. He's in physical therapy to learn how to walk with a brace and has not yet had the energy to return to his job as the district director for Giffords' office.

But he found enough energy to spend much of Wednesday and Thursday at rehearsals for the show.

There were many spectacular moments during the nearly five-hour concert: Jackson Browne and Jennifer Warnes on "Golden Slumbers." Soul legend Sam Moore pulling the audience into "America the Beautiful." David Crosby and Graham Nash jamming through "For What It's Worth" with Keb' Mo', and "Long Time Gone" with Nils Lofgren. Lofgren shredding through the Beatles' "Any Time at All." The exuberance of Ozomotli, who had previously refused to play in Arizona following the passage of SB 1070. Calexico and Mariachi Luz de Luna teaming up with Jackson Browne on "Linda Paloma." Joey Burns' love letter to the heart of Tucson during "Crystal Frontier." Jackson Browne on the keyboards for "Doctor My Eyes" and guitar for "I Am a Patriot." And Alice Cooper's maniacal set as the show reached its end, as Cooper exhorted the audience to sing along on "I'm 18" and "School's Out."

"If you don't know these songs, you never went to high school," Cooper hollered.

The morning after the concert, Ron and his wife, Nancy, watched Giffords' doctors tell the press that the congresswoman was "making leaps and bounds" in her recovery.

The medical team at Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital said Giffords was recovering her memory and her ability to speak, and was able to walk with assistance. They were able to remove a tracheostomy tube from her neck.

"She's already able to speak in full sentences if she wants," said Dr. Dong Kim. "We can really have a conversation with her at this point."

Kim said that Giffords shouldn't have long-term memory problems, although she does not remember being shot, "which is normal. ... She is very upbeat and focused on getting better."

Doctors also said Giffords might be able to travel to Florida for the April launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, which will be commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

"It was such good news," says Barber, who hopes that if Giffords goes to Florida, he can be there, too, provided his doctors clear him for the long flight.

Barber remains confident that Giffords will be back on the job.

"I've never had any doubt about that, knowing who she is," he says. "She's a woman with really strong determination and a work ethic that won't stop."

As for him: He's kicking around ideas for another benefit concert, but he's not ready to go into showbiz full time.

"I have to tell you, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life," Barber says. "I don't know if it's in my future. My future is with Gabby. As long as she can work and she will have me, I'll be there."

Jared Lee Loughner's hair has grown back, and he was sporting long sideburns and a hint of a goatee as he was led into a federal courtroom in shackles and a khaki prison uniform last Wednesday, March 9, one day before the benefit concert.

But the most distinguishing feature of the 22-year-old was the smirk that remained on his face throughout the afternoon court hearing.

Loughner pleaded not guilty to 49 federal counts stemming from the Jan. 8 attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and those who had gathered to see her at a Congress on Your Corner event.

Loughner's only words during the hearing—"Yes, it is," in response to the question of whether his name was Jared Lee Loughner—were said in a buoyant tone.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns granted a prosecution motion to force Loughner to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

Defense attorney Judy Clarke argued that such an evaluation was "premature" and could interfere with her efforts to "develop a relationship of trust" with Loughner.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst expressed concern that if the defense team were to raise issues in the future about Loughner's ability to understand the charges, "all of these proceedings are for naught."

As Kleindienst outlined Loughner's signs of mental illness—including his YouTube videos and his evident belief that government agencies had him under surveillance—Loughner became expressive, nodding vigorously, raising his eyebrows and grinning broadly.

Burns left it for the lawyers to sort out where and when mental-health experts would evaluate Loughner, and set a May 25 date for the competency hearing.

The review might take place in Tucson, where Loughner is being held at a maximum-security federal prison, or in San Diego, where Clarke resides.

Given that Burns had approved the prosecution's motion for the competency review, Clarke asked that other proceedings in the case be put off until Loughner's ability to stand trial was resolved. Burns granted her request.

Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges against him, which include killing U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard and Christina-Taylor Green.

More by Jim Nintzel


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