Rock artists don't often get to play New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall.
But that's only one reason Patti Smith's longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye
said he is excited about performing in the venue on March 9 for the 6th
annual Tibet House benefit.
"The overwhelming presence of Carnegie ... gives the event a certain
dignity and cultural importance," said Kaye, who will be among a
star-studded group of performers that also includes Patti Smith, Sheryl Crow, Natalie
Merchant, former Velvet Underground member John Cale, organizer and modern
classical composer Phillip Glass, Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso and Live
members Ed Kowalczyk and Chad Taylor.
"But it certainly also gives the performers a chance to play in a place
that you usually don't in the rock 'n' roll world," Kaye added. "You can
definitely feel the importance of the stage on which Mark Twain spoke to
the people. You can feel history in the room."
The benefit for the
organization that seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of the Tibetan
people -- who have been suffering under an oppressive Chinese occupation for
four decades -- in the past has had great luck drawing not just big-name
talent, but inspiring some fascinating and breath-taking collaborations.
At last year's event, Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan even strapped
on a guitar and joined Cale and composer Glass while Beat poet Allen
Ginsberg recited his laundry-list political beat-down, "Ballad of the
Skeletons." The unlikely duo of Glass and ex-10,000 Maniacs singer Merchant
took the opportunity to debut a new song they wrote together entitled
"Planctus." Meanwhile, Corgan debuted a new song entitled "Need," followed
by a somber reading of the blues standard "Death Don't Have No Mercy."
Ben Harper did a solo cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," R.E.M.
singer Michael Stipe performed "E-Bow the Letter" -- with the punk-poet Smith
reprising her role on backing vocals -- as well as a hushed version of Pearl
Jam's "Long Road." Smith also did a mind-blowing version of "People Have the Power," for which she shared the stage with Stipe,
Corgan and Merchant, as well as the others.
Past events have also found Merchant collaborating with country singer
Emmylou Harris on a bluegrass standard and singer/songwriter Paul Simon performing with his
wife, former New Bohemian singer Edie Brickell, in a rare
public duet. Also taking part in this year's event are African diva
Angelique Kidjo, Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo and the Drepung Loseling
Monks. Among the celebrities on the Honorary Committee are Uma Thurman,
Ethan Hawke, Harrison Ford and his wife Melissa Mathison and designer Mary
Nena Thurman, mother of actress Uma Thurman and managing director of Tibet
House, said the approximately $125,000 raised by the concerts thus far is
used to pay the salaries of the organization's four full-time employees.
"The money is very important," said Thurman, who noted that the
organization had to look to other sources to raise funds for their recent
move into a new space on W. 15th Street in Manhattan, N.Y.
"This is the most difficult money to raise, operating money, but it keeps
us alive," she said. "It's important to have a place like this where the
general public can come and learn about Tibetan culture."
The Tibet House show offers a great opportunity, Kaye said, for people to
learn something about this peaceful culture that has become the subject of
so much attention these days with the release of numerous films and benefit
albums and the ongoing effort to raise awareness through the annual
Tibetan Freedom Concert each summer.
"Tibet House shows have a more timeless preoccupation with the overall
culture that is Tibet's contribution to the world," Kaye said. "The setting
makes you look somewhat more inwardly, maybe play a set that's not so much
concerned with a rousing call to arms as one that reflects the legacy that
you're bringing to the forefront of people's consciousness."
the Tibet House show as more culturally based than the Beastie Boys' annual
Tibetan Freedom Concerts, which Smith played last summer.
"Tibetan Freedom has more of a political emphasis," Kaye said. "Both celebrate
Tibet's culture and its metaphysical contributions to the world, but
Tibetan Freedom is geared around [his holiness] the Dalai Lama's exile and
this is more about the preservation of Tibetan culture."
The guitarist also explained that the traditional "cross-referencing"
pairings that take place at the show are mostly spontaneous. "It's very
spur-of-the-moment. That improvisation is part of the moment in time that
Tibet House is." [Tues., Feb. 17, 1998, 6 p.m.