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Review: Tibetan Freedom Concert-Stunned, saddened, soiled and soaked

June 17, 1998|By JASON MYERS

Jason Myers

Clouds hovered, then cleared. Balloons buoyant with helium bounced along with balls through the sky, a gray-merging-blue. People gamboled atop the crowd, carried on hands, like spiders crawling over a web of humanity. Bands played. Activists activated. Monks chanted. Thousands rushed the field.

Lightning struck.

On Saturday, June 13, I attended the Tibetan Freedom Concert at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The event was a magnificent and magnanimous affair, a gathering of the best and most popular musicians of our day playing music and increasing consciousness of foreign affairs. It was designed to promote awareness of the political turmoil between Tibet, the Buddhist homeland and birthplace of the Dalai Lama, and China, communist superpower. (It was a little ironic that this festival encouraged and exuded the same spirit as Woodstock, to which many communists caravanned nearly 30 years ago.) Regardless of ideology and argument, the day was to be one of celebration and catharsis through the transporting power of music.

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And it was.

Until four o'clock.

Dave Matthews Band enraptured, especially on a hypnotic version of "All Along the Watchtower," and the 66,000 people were, for a moment, ants marching to the beat of the same drum, and it was a harmonious and hedonistic experience being captured in the rhythm of such a charged and yet controlled band.

Sure, there were acts before them, and some were even impressive. But Dave and crew had the genuine groove. Then Herbie Hancock came out with the newly reunited Headhunters and fed us some funk. They were so electrifying that they brought lightning bolts crashing into the stadium. A hard rain fell.

I huddled into the swelter of stadium's bosom, with a large and expensive Pepsi and a copy of Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." The day was beginning to feel heavy with symbolism.

Luckily, I did not transform into a cockroach, though I did become one unhappy camper, as the expression goes, when Michael Stipe appeared ever so fleetingly to announce the day was over for the remaining acts. Which meant no Beck. No R.E.M. No Sonic Youth. No Red Hot Chili Peppers. No Radiohead. No music. No joy. Mudville. Sentence fragments. I was stunned, saddened, soiled and soaked.

I was rejected into the lonely wet grey of Washington, D.C. I was in a sweaty swarm of angry, agitated, abused concert-goers, and unlike many of them, I did not have even the hope of returning Sunday for different bands and perhaps performances from those who did not play. I had only to huddle on to the Metro. With thousands in front of me, however, I conjectured I would be quite a while, so I proceeded to roam Southeast D.C. in search of a close, less crowded terminal.

Terminal was an appropriate word. For those who have not had the pleasure of a leisurely stroll through the southeastern part of Washington, home of Bill Clinton and all that is glib with the world, I strongly recommend it as a learning and relaxing experience. Tense as I was, I managed to gain a sense of place, and began to think myself rather clever as I recognized streets and understood direction. That is, until I was consumed within the vortex of the D.C. penitentiary system, veering through circles of decrepit and disturbing state-buildings.

I knew not where I was. Then, yes, the waves parted and I saw a sign. It was R.F.K. and I was there again and 20 minutes of walking through a war zone was for naught. Hundreds still hung about the Metro like maggots magnetized to meat. So I started a journey anew and eventually made my way to another terminal without being terminated.

Nestled back within the comforting chaos (minor, relative to that from which I had escaped) of the Metro, I returned to my friend Franz and his rumination over Gregor and his bug-like state. I was feeling rather buggy myself as I attempted to understand my misfortune.

I was supposed to be listening to my favorite bands. I was supposed to be with friends. I was supposed to be festive. It was supposed to be a transcendent experience, a day for me to recognize that even though the 1990s are seriously commercialized and subsidized and sponsored, it is still possible for people to gather around for a cause and create even a microcosm of harmony.

But if I learned anything on June 13, it was that "supposed" is and always will be the antithesis to "is." Reality is a disturbingly unpredictable, and Murphy's Law is applicable.

I needed something for solace and serenity. I needed to convince myself the world was not such a terrible place and that there is reason behind all the pretense of confusion. I needed, of course, to go to a movie.

And so I did. And what a wonderful film I found. Henry Jaglom's "Deja Vu." Enchantment. Bliss. Enlightenment. All in less than two hours. Is there any world more delightful than the world of cinema?

I emerged from the theater, a charming if corporate little D.C. art house, charmed and changed. Its urgency inspired me. But slowly I walked back to the Metro and continued on to my car, finishing "The Metamorphosis" on the way.

It was a long, strange day. Driving home, WHFS announced that Radiohead was making a midnight appearance at the 9:30 Club. All with ticket stubs from the Tibetan Freedom Concert would be admitted, as capacity allowed. The film I had just seen advised me to turn back, to see a great band play great music, and oh was I tempted.

But being the dutiful and devoted son and citizen I am, I returned to the humble hamlet of Hagerstown, leaving behind the excess and energy of the city, leaving for another day the strange parables of transformation in modern society, leaving the real and the surreal. I had graduated on Friday.

Jason will be a freshman at Bennington College in autumn.

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