Jackson Browne has lent his voice to Tucson in the past, using music to heal and inspire.
The Sanctuary Movement drew Browne to Tucson in 1985. In 1998, he performed a benefit concert for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Now Browne is returning to Tucson for another benefit, this time in support of the Fund for Civility, Respect, and Understanding, started by Ron Barber, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' district director, who was wounded in the Jan. 8 shootings. (For more on Barber, see Page 21.)
"I think this is an opportunity for us all to take part in something that expresses our desire to live in peace and live in harmony and in a safe and productive environment," Browne said. "I want the same thing that everybody else wants, which is to live in an environment in which it's possible to discuss and to disagree without feeling that you're going to be targeted."
Joining Browne in the all-star lineup are Alice Cooper, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Sam Moore, Nils Lofgren, Keb' Mo', Jennifer Warnes, Jerry Riopelle, Dar Williams, Ozomatli and Calexico. Speakers are scheduled to include Barber; Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly; Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Lea Marquez Peterson; and Mayor Bob Walkup.
Browne said the benefit came together quickly and spontaneously, with promoter Danny Zelisko at the reins and musicians contacting one another to help create a positive response to the shooting, which killed six and injured 13.
"It's a tragic, shocking thing that's happened, and there needs to be a response by the community and the people who live in Tucson, but by everybody else, too. People are faced with the same kinds of problems in their own communities," he said.
"Tucson is unique. It's the desert; it's so close to the border; it's got its unique biodiversity," Browne said. "What it has in common with every American town is that people want to live in peace. They want to know they can go to the supermarket and not get shot by somebody who never should have gotten a gun."
Pairing the liberal Browne with the conservative Cooper is a statement about unity even in the face of political differences.
"It touches on the political, but also on what is humane. Politicians from both sides should agree that it's possible to debate and discuss political issues without the vitriol, which is so damaging to the atmosphere and the attitudes of people," Browne said.
Browne points to the Bill Clinton era as the point at which the idea of loyal opposition began to erode. The blustery, obsessive vitriol of that era has only grown louder since the election of Barack Obama.
"People are willing to see the ship go down if it's not headed in the direction they want it to (go in). It's a form of piracy, really," he said. "I'm not even sure I would say the problem lies with the politicians. It's the punditry, the people who make a living stirring up drama."
The Fund for Civility, Respect, and Understanding will not only support the victims and families affected by the shooting; it will also promote civility and respect in public discourse, schools and the community, and work in support of mental-health treatment.
"I think it's a good idea to set these programs in motion to remind us that what's great about this country is we have the right to dissent, the right to disagree and the right to say what we think," Browne said.
Browne said that while he'd like to see common-sense improvements in the nation's gun laws, the idea of the benefit and the fund go beyond such specifics.
"There's an epidemic of violent crime in the United States, having to deal with the ease with which the mentally ill and criminals can get guns," Browne said. "That, of course, becomes a political issue. But it's really an issue of: How do we want to live, and what has become of our attitudes and our belief in our most closely held American ideals, the right to dissent and the right to talk out our differences?"
Ultimately, the concert is just a first step in a larger mission.
"I think it's a good idea to have an event to rally people's spirits. I'm looking forward to it with a great deal of hope for the possibility of creating something good," Browne said.