It doesn’t get more New York than this: Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Miley Cyrus (?!) singing “People Have the Power” at Carnegie Hall along with Philip Glass, Ira Glass, Dev Hynes and the Flaming Lips, among others. It happened last night to close out the 25th annual Tibet House benefit.
The concert, launched in 1980 by Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Spalding Gray and longtime artistic director Philip Glass, always packs star power: last year Iggy Pop did a couple of Joy Division songs with three surviving members of the band (and who can forget Iggy unsuccessfully attempting to stage dive in 2010).
No, David Bowie didn’t show up this year, but Flaming Lips did team up with Glass to cover “Warszawa,” the song Bowie and Brian Eno, who wrote it, did with Glass on Low Symphony. That came after a giddy Wayne Coyne, bedecked in face glitter and a rain slicker, covered the Beatles song “She’s Leaving Home” with Juliana Barwick, just as they did on the Lips’ latest album Just a Little Help From My Fwends (Miley, of course, also appeared on that album, so it’s safe to say that when she came on stage later, it was as Coyne’s +1).
Maybe the wildest moment came when Ira Glass read from Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” Glass performed the anti-Vietnam poem along with his second cousin Philip on piano, just as Ginsberg did on Hydrogen Jukebox. The Glasses have done the piece before, at the SoHo Apple store in 2010. Last night’s rendition found Ira’s notoriously priggish voice breaking into a raspy bark during the section of the poem where Ginsberg, who composed the poem in a car in Kansas, calls “all Powers of imagination to my side in this auto to make Prophecy, all Lords of human kingdoms to come.” And trust us, watching Ira Glass lose his shit was worth the steep price of admission, which of course went toward Tibet House‘s efforts to promote and preserve Tibetan culture.
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Side note: according to the liner notes of Hydrogen Jukebox, Ginsberg and Philip Glass decided to put “Wichita Vortex Sutra” to music when they bumped into each other in the St. Mark’s Bookshop in 1988.
But enough about Ginsberg, let’s talk about some of the downtown legends who are still with us and played last night. First up, Laurie Anderson performed a violin duet and read her “Story About a Story,” about “the time I discovered that most adults have no idea what they’re talking about and also that they have no problem saying whatever comes to mind even if it’s vaguely true or not.” She went on to tell the story of breaking her back while high diving when she was 12, and defying the doctor who said she’d never walk again. The tale has a surprise ending, which you can read here.
Next, Philip Glass’s East Village neighbor Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange (who also happens to be the Strand’s favorite customer) did a few numbers with the Scorchio Quartet, which accompanied other acts as well. After a couple of out-of-towners played (Ashley MacIsaac with the Celtic fiddling, Tenzin Choegyal with some Tibetan orchestral numbers, and Sturgill Simpson with the country-folk), Debbie Harry was up. Wearing gold lame pants and accompanied by Blondie keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen, she kicked things off with a Chris Stein number, then ran through Katz-Bohen’s “Rose By Any Name” off of Blondie’s latest album, and closed with the night’s crowdpleaser: “Heart of Glass,” which was dedicated, of course, to Philip.
Finally, Patti Smith, with her daughter on piano, honored the Dalai Lama’s forthcoming 80th birthday by reading a poem she wrote for him, “a small entreaty” (it’s reprinted in an interview she did with Thurston Moore). Then she was joined by Lenny Kaye et al for a rousing version of “Gandhi.” Her calls of “it’s not a name, it’s an idea” had the crowd on its feet even before her rendition of “People Have the Power” got all of the night’s performers back on stage. Last time we heard this anthem it was in Rockaway, and James Franco and Michael Stipe were in on it. This time, Miley came out wearing a designer jumpsuit and a beatific grin, prompting some of her young fans to rush the stage. Watch the video and look for her to the right of guitarist Lenny Kaye; she’s eventually summoned to the mic by Coyne for a quartet with Glass and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips.
By the way, if you think Miley mingling with Patti, Debbie, and Laurie is weird, Coyne tells USA Today that the Flaming Lips are working on a song with her and — who else — Yoko Ono.