Standing 50 heads from the front of an ungodly long line, I wondered exactly where I was. Was I at a political rally? Was I at a concert? It really didn't feel like either. When you're at a concert, everybody's hanging out, but the mood is light. When you're at a political rally ... wait, i've never been to a political rally! I guess what it's like is what I saw last night - a lot of people with fire in their eyes, present for the pure belief that they are going to stand behind a man who can make this country a better place.
There were a lot of Binaural shirts and Pearl Jam Soccer jerseys, so Pearl Jam fans were definitely in the house. There were only two lines getting in to the Garden and luckily I was on line early because I only work 9 floors above where I was waiting. Saw many familiar faces from the Jones Beach shows I was at and we all shared the belief that this was a nice little "treat" for us East Coasters watching Pearl Jam blaze across the midwest while we sit at home.
Waiting with a fellow taper, the doors opened at 7PM and we did an "Olympic Speed Walk" to the floor. The first 7-8 rows were blocked off and they could have fit another 7-8 rows in front of those but they were open to the press only. With three sections across the front, we were able to score two seats on the inside aisle of the left section. We picked that spot after hearing that all the performers played on the left side of the stage. My comrade-in-arms was audio taping, so I decided to video tape not just Ed, but most of the magic that people were starting to feel at the rally.
After a few promotional videos, they played one particular piece which really brought the garden-filling crowd to a hush. It was a gruellingly slow documentary of the protesters who blocked the streets during the WTO Conferences in Seattle last year. After only seeing blips of it on the news in the past, it was interesting to see what really happened and not some watered-down nightly-news version. Now, don't get me wrong, it was not neat to see people doused with chemicals and billy(sp?) clubs, but it did give some perspective on the strength and courage of the protesters - that same perspective that caused Ed to write very telling lyrics about it in songs like "Grievance" and "Evacuation".
Phil Donahue started the evening with some motivating words, then the performances started. A hip-hop band with unintelligible lyrics played for about five minutes and were literally ordered off the stage, followed by Ani Defranco who played two wonderful songs in her distinct funk-polk style. Ben Harper played a beautiful song, followed by a weird cover, then another beautiful song. The weird cover was Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and there was a lot of murmur from the crowd basically wondering what significance that song had at a political rally. Regardless, he had some nice words to close his time.
Tim Robbins did a spoof on the Republican party by portraying a ficticious politician - a blind, wheelchair-bound Republican Senator who thought he was at a rally for his own party. He sang intentionally ignorant songs and the crowd joined in the joke with heavy booing. He had two mock security guards flanking him, one who whispered in his ear causing Robbins' character to laugh and say something like "He just told me I was at a Ralph Nader Rally - what a joker".
Michael Moore was eloquent and very convincing - bringing up many points that separate Nader from the other candidates. Susan Serandon gave an inspiring talk. Patti Smith said this was the first time she played the Garden which I found truly remarkable. Her set was very moving. Bill Murray then gave a predictable yet sincere and funny speech and then introduced Ed as "one of the great voices of this generation." The crowd went crazy as expected as Ed strolled across the stage and took a seat with his electric guitar.
"Now this is a Garden party! Best party I've ever been to. Actually I've been fortunate enough in my life to play places that were full and uh - even this place - but tonight is absolutely different and I think the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I mean this was just a small, small idea less than two weeks ago and it was filled with hope but absolutely no guarantees. And the fact that it's turned out like this is just incredible. And on behalf of everyone who's been working on the campaign and just to say that we really appreciate the fact that you paid $20 to get it and uh, the other rallies in the other cities were $7 to $10, but this being such a historical building makes it much more expensive. And therefore $20 to cover sosts - which you did - made a difference, so thanks again for your hard-earned money. And I think it's well worth a dollar, because it's here, and because it's an important place in the country and everyone knows where Madison Square Garden is, that all these other rallies that Ralph's done with 10,000 people that haven't gotten attention, it's gonna stop tonight, because they can't ignore this. (crowd cheers wildly, then Ed addresses the press before him). I dare ya!"
Ed then started "Patriot". Now I've been lucky enough to hear many versions of "Patriot" in my time - mind you all on tape, not live - and this one was spectacular. The crowd cheered after the first few notes of recognition and Ed's voice sounded great. We got the "boyfriend" line again and got a slightly modified bridge:
"And I ain't no communist,
And I ain't no socialist,
And I ain't no capitalist,
And I ain't no imperialist,
And I am no longer Democrat,
Sure as fuck no Republican Either,
I only want one party - and that is freedom!"
Also a treat was the way he played the ending by actually going nuts on his acoustic with machine gunning picking - much like the way Townshend plays on Acoustic Who songs lately.
Some great fan interaction ensued when Ed started addressing the crowd again.
"Thank You. Um, on a week's dealine, I was.. I thought I could take a pretty good stab at writing a good song for Ralph, but uh...."
At this moment some fan yelled out "You can do it!" and Ed and the crowd just cracked up - you know, one of those rare cases where Ed is in full ear-to-ear smile with cheeks turning bright red. Ed continued:
"But I just needed one more day. But voter registration ends tonight so I didn't have the time. But there was this song to bail me out. And it was written maybe 30 years ago and several of the lines are more pertinent now then ever and I just wanted to mention that it's being played with the permission of the author."
As Ed started to play "These Times They Are A'Changin", I was reminded that that feeling of wondering what it would have been like to sit in the Garden and hear Ed belt out a Bob Dylan song (i.e. like "Masters of War" in '93) was now coming true for me. Ed's style pulls off Dylan remarkably well, as Ed's singing in that particular voice can cause an audience to screech to a halt and demand full attention.
Ed thanked the crowd, grabbed his lyric sheets and strode off the stage having definitely gotten his message across. The only negative at this point was that everyone I saw walking in with a Binaural shirt or PJ Soccer jersey, promptly bolted off the floor and out of the arena. The few obvious Pearl Jam fans that did stay either gave Ralph's speech lackluster support or left halfway through. Ralph's light never dimmed though as a crowd of 18,000+ cannot be stifled and screamed in support of Ralph's every word.
Without transcribing Ralph's speech, he touched on real issues and really was the summit of an evening that belonged to him. The spotlight had him looking a bit nervous at times, but the crowd rallied around every word and went crazy with every call for America to take action against corporate tyranny.
At the end of his speech, all the artists came back on and performed a cover of "People Have the Power" with Ed and two other guitarists backing up Patti Smith. The crowd was going nuts, chanting "Let Ralph Debate" along with the beat. As the song jammed to an end, all the artists shook Ralph's hand or hugged him and the night drew comfortably to an end.
I walked in the Garden with no strong political affiliations and I left with a least a greater awareness of a viable candidate. If he gets my vote, I feel it will be well cast. I confess that I did attend this event to see Ed perform, but I knew that this was going to be my Ralph Nader 101 class to help me make a decision for the election. Gore or Bush haven't been here yet and show me through the debates that they might as well be the same person. I've been hearing Ed's pro-Nader speeches at shows I have on tape since I got the Virginia Beach a few days after that show, and I thank him for raising my awareness to a candidate who cares as much for the rights of Americans as we know Ed and Pearl Jam care for their fans.
© 2000 JR
photos © JR