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Ed's Interview with Jon Stewart at TFC '99
6/13/99 East Troy, WI

Jon Stewart: Okay, hey we're back. We're backstage here at the 1999 Tibetan Freedom Concert. We're here with Eddie Vedder who just played a monster set. You know, what great luck to find two guys in the audience who had such chops.

Eddie Vedder: And knew all the obscure songs.

JS: It probably wouldn't work out as well on most nights, you wouldn't think.

EV: Well, they seem to be music fans. They knew Dead Moon songs which is a rare band from Portland and the Mono Men from Seattle and all these bands that no one hears and they knew all the songs.

JS: And not only that, I felt like by the second or third song it was almost as if you guys could almost just communicate with your eyes. It's like you guys really felt tight up there at that point.

EV: Yeah, and they handled the size of the crowd really, really well. And to be honest they told me after that they'd never played on a stage bigger than a king-sized bed before.

JS: I think I had seen them somewhere before like at a bar mitzvah. I didn't know they had such range.

EV: Yeah, 'cuz they have a two-piece heavy metal band called "C Average" .. it's true.

JS: Ha ha

EV: Yeah, it's true. Maybe they played the bar mitzvah (joking). Yeah, but they are a band.

JS: Maybe that's the one ... Tell me about ... you've been involved with this for quite a while. Tell me a little bit about how you ended up getting involved.

EV: Uhh, just mainly through Adam. He gave me a call. Thats all it took, so uhh once you read about it and think about it, you wanna do something about it and it's frustrating because sometimes there's not much you can but you can't really give up. I don't know, it's just always worth it to give it a shot.

JS: It seems like it continues to build. I mean that's the nice part about it. When you look at this year they're doing 24-hour concerts in four different cities and it seems like it's beginning to have more of an impact.

EV: And it's that kind of impact that might be the only thing that they can do to make an impact is just kinda let people know on a large scale that we're aware of what's going on because that's what I think happens in a communist society. They kinda delude or dilute the truth and they kind of manage people by just stiff laws and punishment and not allowing people to practice let's say a 3,000-year-old culture in this case which is based on spiritual practices which have evolved. You know, we're such a young country compared to them and it seems like they're almost insecure to me. They're insecure about this and cuz it seems like what I've found out is that it's really tightly knit up at the top with business in the state. It's only like five or six families and they're just hanging on. This is the way they hang onto their powers. Just crushing everyone and anyone who even has any source of independent thought.

JS: Well you can see they try to keep it ... I mean look at what happened in Russia in that sense. They sort of got a whiff of the cultural revolution and that seemed to be all it took at least for the young people. And I imagine it's a similar type of situation and the more communication extends itself there, the more I think these kinds of movements get in and I imagine that will have more of an effect for them. Especially amongst the younger people in China.

EV: And even young people here realizing that you do have a voice especially even as a consumer and that you kind of vote every time you purchase something and that you should be aware that things that are made in China whether it's a child's toy or a nail clipper, you know it might be put together in prison labor. What it seems is that if enough attention was paid or awareness was raised that you can let the heads of these corporations in America who are importing these kind of things and working with China in it's favored nation's status, it seems that if there was some pressure put on and that we aren't really happy about this and that we really need to not necessarily punish, but work out a way ... it's almost like the CEOs have to just become socially conscious on their own. You can't really have laws about it.

JS: It's the "you gotta hit 'em in the pocket book" ... it's sort of that idea. You have to get them economically. You're certainly not going to win in a moral argument.

EV: No

JS: So I imagine it's a question of attacking with a slightly different approach. Do you ever see yourself having a chance to get over there?

EV: He he. Not now! (laughs) I think last year's concert was the one where they said anyone who plays ... "you can never come here. Your records will not be allowed on the market here."

JS: I didn't realize that ... I'm cutting off the whole market.

EV: Yeah, see, that's why its good to take a stand. The issue is more important than ...

JS: So do you think next year if you're around you'll come back and do another one?

EV: It would be nice to. Yeah ... It's an interesting question. It's hard sometimes, you know ... you get frustrated sometimes and, uh ... But yeah I'll be here.

JS: I hope you still like touring with these two guys cuz I really felt a "synergy" you know between the three of you that had some potential. I'm not saying saying to bring back ... you remember a band called "The Jam?" Just three guys who just; they put out ... you know ... it was that indie of thing today. I gotta tell you, the crowd itself I think really responded to the energy from that today and it perked up.

EV: Oh yeah, they did great. Actually it's amazing. Um, I was wondering if you could kinda edit this part out. But I was trying to think if there were any other issues ...

JS: What's the drop dead date for the letter writing campaign? June 14, June 22?

EV: Oh, I know ... how about we talk about how the structure is as far as the people and how they're ... I kinda just want to talk more about ... the rights that people might have if they might actually be there. The freedoms that we take for granted.

JS: OK, I'll get you into it. You know in a sense, people have trouble understanding the realities of what might be happening, you know? Do you have any sort of illuminating ... on what kind of pressure they might be under over there or what their lives might be like?

EV: Well you can see, you were asking me before if I might ever make it over and from what I found out apparently you get visas to go to certain towns and even certain parts of certain towns and there might be an interpretor that's with you and the interpretor's being watched and kind of reporting in where you go and there's a guy watching the interpretor as well, so it's hard to imagine in our country this kind of "eye" on you at all times to such an extreme and it seems like this day we're talking about Tibet and at least being able to preserve their culture to a certain extent. But I imagine that everyone who lives there is suffering under this like just intense, intense lack of freedom.

JS: And scrutiny to a certain extent.

EV: Yeah, everything. Whether it's reproductive rights for the women or, you know, music. Not being able to ... there's a is it Ngawang Chophel? Is that how you say it ... Ngawang Chophel? I always read it and I'm never quite sure, but I read it on petitions that we had signed two years ago. He became a Fullbright scholar. This is a guy who went over there from America even though he was born in Tibet. He became a musicologist, which is studying indigenous music, and he went back. He brought a small tape player and a couple of microphones and a couple of double A batteries to record some of the Tibetan music and he ended up being picked up and being charged with being a spy. I mean this was four years ago and he's still there! This is not standing around protesting or burning a flag or a picture of their leader. This is just trying to preserve some kind of music. If you see music being condemned and love being condemned, and even religion, ah, which apparently it's mostly religion ... it's state there. It's really hard to see our businessmen going over there. It's just a really hard thing to see. In America it's "by the people for the people" and it seems like over there it's "by business, for business" and it's upsetting to see like a president or the whole thing being worked towards business with no regard to like civil rights on such a large scale.

JS: Yeah it's like they're looking at that country as an excellent great market.

EV: Sure, and Hong Kong now being part of it ... it's like there's a huge disparity in what we export from China to what we import. It's like we export so much more than we import. It's like 2/3 more if not more than what we import. They tax us extremely high; we tax them very low. It's just difficult to comprehend that it got to that point with a nation that obviously was mistreating its people and the goods were being made in questionable fashions as far as prison labor and such.

JS: Also in this country. We aren't that far removed from having Schindler situations with people in our own country. So I imagine it might be hard to get out of that when we are also in a country with its own frailties.

EV: America is this country that anyone can be anything. It's just made up of all kinds of people and even if we are in this young, adolescent period ... If you're actually gonna wear a T-shirt that says "Super Power" on it and believe in it, I think that you have to stand behind it and create an example and actually lead and take some chances. And you know I think America's great and I want to be proud of it and there's a lot of times recently and it's hard to be proud of it.

JS: Well, I want to thank you for coming by and this is Eddie Vedder backstage at the Tibetan Freedom Concert and let's go back outside for some more music.

transcribed by Neil Mulgrew from video feed