Jackson Browne Brings Another Earth-Shattering Issue Into TheLight.
By Jim Lipson
MUSICIANS' USE OF their special talents to raise money for charities as well as to promote and raise consciousness is nothing new. Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary and their lesser-known contemporaries have long used whatever clout they could muster to promote change and influence public policy. Good people doing good things for all the right reasons.
In 1971 when George Harrison filled Madison Square Garden for two shows to benefit starving refugees in Bangladesh, the stakes increased 1,000 percent. Rock and roll had achieved celebrity status. Harrison, who was involved in almost all aspects of the project, was an ideal role model. Most musicians were there because he had made the phone calls.
Since then, "big name" musicians have lent their names and talents to thousands of causes. Bob Geldof (Live Aid), Willie Nelson (Farm Aid), Peter Gabriel (Amnesty International) and Harry Chapin (causes too numerous to mention) are all synonymous with "right use" of celebrity status.
Which brings us to Jackson Browne, for whom philanthropy is much more than just another free gig.
Browne's first foray into big-time activism came in 1979, when he joined Bonnie Raitt and Graham Nash (among others) to form MUSE--Musicians United for Safe Energy, a no-nukes group promoting education about alternative energy and the dangers of nuclear power. The New York MUSE concerts in the fall of 1980 and the album and film documenting these shows were the most visible results of their work. But MUSE's encore performance extended beyond the benefit stage to firsthand involvement with grassroots no-nuke alliances nationwide.
Since then, Browne's kept busy with Native American issues, human rights in Nicaragua and El Salvador, the Sanctuary movement here in Arizona and Operation USA, a multi-faceted international relief agency currently working with NASA to employ new technologies in helping to rid the world of more than 100 million land mines.
In all of these instances Browne has not only played benefit shows but has helped set them up, brought in other musicians to play, demonstrated at public rallies and traveled extensively throughout the world in a quest for firsthand knowledge.
It was in Nicaragua that he first met Richard Walden, president of Operation USA. Browne was getting eyewitness accounts of the battles between the government and the Sandinistas and the chilling consequences for Nicaragua's native peoples, while Walden, a civil rights lawyer and former administrator under California Governor Jerry Brown, was helping to organize disaster relief for an earthquake and civil war.
"Jackson is a model for what we would like all high-profile entertainers to be," said Walden in a recent interview. "He's very generous with his time...and it's easy to do concerts with him," clearly implying this is not always the case with big-time performers.
Local promoter and activist Ted Warmbrand echoes these sentiments when he remembers previous benefit shows Browne not only played but helped organize.
"Jackson was astonishing," he recalls, referring to the 1988 Sanctuary benefit at the University of Arizona's McKale Center, where he brought in Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt to help raise $50,000 for the Tucson-based movement to assist political refugees from Central America. "The applause kept winding down and people were ready to hear more hits...and yet he kept talking about the issue...making a connection between the music (and the politics). He risked alienating his audience to make that connection. He had moral vision and you felt more human."
Browne's work with the Verde Valley School in Sedona is but one instance of his "think global act local" approach. This 3,000-ticket show is not a big-time event, and there's virtually no publicity outside of Arizona. But in terms of providing scholarship money for the region's Native American population, its impact is vital. It's also a show he's reluctant to headline, preferring to showcase other performers, known and unknown.
Such sincerity is rare in the ego-driven music industry; but for Browne it's simply a way of life. In the early 1980s, when he met the little known brother-sister duo Guardabarranco in their native Nicaragua, he gave them his phone number and told them to call if they ever got to the states. He wasn't kidding. In 1984 they called and ended up living with him for a month. Soon after, he recorded and produced their beautiful album, Si Buscabas, later released by Holly Near on her Redwood label. They also sing background vocals on Browne's latest release, Looking East.
While the new album features some familiar sounds and old friends--David Lindley, Ry Cooder, David Crosby, Mike Campbell and Bonnie Raitt all make cameo appearances--this is Browne's first truly collaborative effort, with virtually all of the album's songwriting credits shared by Browne with his band. What results is a solid attempt to bring World Music consciousness onto a recording. Fusing tropical rhythms with a west coast afro-pop, there are places where Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints is called to mind.
On Tuesday, March 5, Browne and band bring their message to Centennial Hall. There are still a limited number of high-priced tickets available ($125 each) which include a backstage reception following the show. All proceeds benefit Operation USA.
Jackson Browne performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at UA Centennial Hall, University Boulevard east of Park Avenue. Tickets are $25 and $32, available at Dillard's and Centennial Hall box offices. Call 621-3341 for tickets and information. For more information on Operation USA, or for the $125 ticket including post-performance reception, call (800) 678-7255.
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